Category Archives: Tom Talks

Cashmere: Practical Luxury

FullSizeRenderSometime about the middle of October, when I felt the first hint of a chill that Fall weather brings, I reached for a cashmere sweater.  I wear my gray zip mock cashmere sweater the most.  In fact I’m wearing it right now.  It amazes me how good it still looks knowing how often and under what conditions Its been worn.

Mind you, I harbor no ill feelings toward clothing knit from cotton or wool.  I own and enjoy several items of each.  But cashmere.  Well, it’s just a cut above in so many ways.  I could list all of the reasons why, but the cleaning lady in Seinfeld, The Red Dot episode, tells it so well.



OK, so anyone who knows what cashmere is and has ever felt something made from cashmere probably loves cashmere.  Given the option, most would prefer cashmere, including George Costanza from Seinfeld, The Apology episode….

George: “Ho ho ho ho! I can’t wait for Hanke to come crawling back to me.”
Jerry: “Still with the neck hole?”
George: “Still upset. Very upset.”
Elaine: “What neck hole?”
George: “Remember that New Year’s party he threw a few years ago? He had that
very drafty apartment, you know, I think on Ninth Avenue.”
Elaine, becoming bored: “Faster.”
George: “I asked if I could borrow a sweater.”
Jerry: “A cashmere sweater.”
George: “I said preferably cashmere, for warmth. So in front of the whole
party, he says, ‘No. I don’t want you stretching out the neck hole.'”
Elaine: “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”
George: “Oh, yeah, sure, laugh it up. Everybody else did!”
Elaine: “Well, it’s funny. I mean, you have a big head. Or is it ’cause of
your neck?”
Jerry: “No, I think the head does most of the stretching.”
George: “Regardless. I had to walk around for the rest of the party in some
cheap Metlife windbreaker. Now, it is payback time.”

19501Cashmere is prized for it’s warmth.   Even a very lightweight cashmere sweater can keep you warm because of it’s unmatched ability to trap air.  But it’s expensive, right?  Yes it is.  And for good reason.   For one, the soft, downy fleece is hand combed each Spring from the Kel goats that live high in the mountains of Inner Mongolia and nearby regions.  So it’s not exactly like picking an apple from your tree in the backyard.  In addition to that, each goat only provides a few ounces of the really fine fibers that live beneath the coarser exterior.  As a result, the annual output from at least three of those goats is required for just one average size cashmere sweater.

But I implore you to look beyond the price tag and consider the long term benefits.  The simple truth is that excellent quality cashmere is surprisingly practical.   Sure cashmere costs more to buy, but it costs less to own and wear.   A quality cashmere knit is relatively more expensive than a similar item made from other fibers, but it will out last cotton by a mile and even a really good wool sweater will lose it’s luster sooner than cashmere.  Like many a fine red wine, when properly cared for, cashmere improves with age for a very long time.  More to the point, cotton and wool, no matter what the quality, will never rival the soft look and feel of cashmere.

HS002  cashmere throws

That fact holds true whether it be a sweater, a jacket or coat, scarf or shawl, or even a throw blanket for the sofa.  Cashmere shawls were so popular among the elite of Europe between 1780 to 1880 that the period was often referred to as “the shawl years.”   For many women a cashmere shawl is immensely practical.  Especially in drafty theaters, when dining outdoors, or when traveling.

Note: Most cashmere knits have labels that suggest dry cleaning when necessary. While a good choice for multi-colored pieces, a better choice in most cases for solid color items is to hand or machine wash in water with a small amount of mild detergent. Then lay flat to dry on a white towel. Do not twist or wring.

I’m getting my mother a cashmere shawl or sweater for Christmas this year.  Maybe both.  She’s always wanted a cashmere sweater and it’s high time she gets it.  Who will you give the gift of cashmere to this year?



Remember Last Winter? A coat for all seasons

TOPcoatI’m writing today from sunny San Francisco. It’s an unseasonably warm 83 degrees outside for early October and I’m thinking about outerwear.  Go figure. If the baseball Giants were in town I would be at AT&T park. Alas, they are playing the Nationals in the first game of the NLDS in Washington D.C., where it is just 72 and cloudy, with a 70% chance of rain.

It occurred to me that it can be very difficult to think about preparing for cold weather when it is so nice and warm. It would be easier (though still not easy) today in DC than in SF to get into the mindset for buying outerwear. But for those who want to be ready when the cold and rainy weather hits, it’s time to give it some thought.  So let’s think ahead. Better yet, let me take you back to last winter for a moment.

The weather last winter was ridiculous in large parts of the U.S.A., especially in the Midwest and Northeast.  There were more than a few days when it was just plain crazy to even venture out to the mailbox.  That didn’t necessarily stop us from going, but it did make a lot of us rethink the layers of protection we had to choose from.   A great coat, a scarf, a pair of cashmere lined gloves, and the right shoes or boots can go a long way toward keeping one comfortable when the temperature plummets. As you would expect me to ask, is it not equally as important to look smart and stylish as it is to be warm and comfortable in your outerwear? Of course it is. But choosing the right piece of outerwear to accomplish all of that may not be easy. To help with that, here is a simple guide:

In simplest terms, there are three kinds of outerwear coats:

  1. Those that are to be worn ONLY OVER another coat or jacket.
  2. Those that can be worn most ANYTIME, whether over another jacket or as the only coat.
  3. Those that are to worn ONLY as the ONLY coat.

char chesterfieldCoats to be worn over other coats or jackets (overcoats) – whether a suit jacket, sport jacket, or dinner jacket – are inherently more formal than those to be worn as a stand alone coat.   An overcoat can be either single or double breasted and must be longer than the under or base coat.  Those that should be worn only over another coat will be at least 10 inches longer than your suit jacket (Topcoat length) and may reach as far down as your ankles (Overcoat length.)

A popular choice of late for a dressy overcoat is a well-fitted Chesterfield (pictured left), distinguished by a single-breasted fly front and made from a moderately heavy cloth woven from wool, cashmere, or a blend of the two with raised nap or flannel feel, and Topcoat length.  A true Chesterfield will also have a black velvet collar, adding a dash of panache.

TrenchOther less formal overcoat options would include the classic Trench coat, the Covert (not pictured), and the particularly masculine Polo coat.  The blue coat (pictured below), a stylized version of the polo coat – blue instead of tan – cuts a commanding appearance.  You will pretty much always get your way when wearing a coat like that.




DB Topcoat


black car coat

The ANYTIME coat must walk the line between dressy and casual, and be neither too long nor too short.  Coats in this category will be in the neighborhood of three-quarter length or a little shorter.

A classic choice for the ANYTIME coat that may be worn OVER another coat or by itself is the CAR coat (pictured left.)

Introduced in the early 20th century to be worn when driving in Open-air and Convertible cars, the car coat is shorter in length than a top coat (about 5 inches longer than your suit jacket), allowing for less bulk and more comfort when seated.






Coats that should be worn by themselves and not over another coat range from most leather jackets to coats made from canvas, nylon, fleece, or any sort of quilting.  I’m really liking the idea of a quilted coat as a cool and comfortable option for casual wear this Fall and Winter.

brown leather jacket

In summary, the well-dressed man must have a bare minimum of three distinctly different coats and more likely at least five to cover the range of occasions and circumstances.

Do you remember last winter?  How could we forget!  Well, I’m not the weather man or Mother Nature, but I’m betting that there’s a pretty good chance another one is coming along real soon.   For a full range of outerwear options, don’t miss the month’s 12 Essentials for Daily Living.


Get their attention…with Robert Graham

wclectic“May I have your attention?  May I have your attention, please?”  came the call over the public address system.  A fire drill? Another safety alert?  We’ve all been trained from a very tender age to stop whatever we  are doing and listen when such a call goes out.   A siren or flashing light is also designed to get our attention, but it’s usually not to announce anything pleasant.

Getting the attention of another (without sirens and flashing lights) in a way that also generates interest, desire, and favorable action (AIDA for you savvy marketing and sales people) is not always such a simple task.  It often requires an element of surprise or delight, something impressive, something capable of disrupting one’s train of thought, if even for just a moment.

Robert Graham (Robert Stock and Graham Fowler) menswear is designed with that in mind.  After serving a wake up call to menswear back in 2001 with a line of shirts that were bold, colorful and artistic, the brand has evolved into a full range of menswear that exhibits what they call “American Eclectic.”  From shirts to pants, socks to belts, some of their pieces speak with a quiet confidence, while others sing in full-voice.   In other words, you can move from one octave to another and turn the volume up or down, all while wearing Robert Graham, and definitely feeling confident every step of the way.


Robert Graham would be the first to tell you that their clothing and accessories are not for everyone.  They unabashedly design for the man who wants:

  • to live a more colorful life
  • to be “a cut above, not a cut-out.”
  • to have the confidence to paint his own picture.

Several of the early and most significant actors in founding the America that we know and love were men who fit that description.  They were men who had a strong sense of their own significance as well as the significance of the times they were living and what they were seeking to accomplish.  If Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were alive today they would be all over Robert Graham clothing.

Secrets of Savvy Business Travelers

Travel, especially business travel, presents a myriad of challenges, not the least of which relate to clothing. In that respect three of the biggest obstacles are:

1. Packing the right clothes.
2. Packing enough, but not too much.
3. Dealing with wrinkles (or, better yet, trying to prevent wrinkled clothing.)

Knowing what to pack depends mostly on how well you know your destination or destinations (culture, weather, etc.) and the extent to which you can anticipate what you will be doing and who you will be doing it with. The less experienced among us, more often than not, end up packing more than we need, presumably to be prepared for anything. Maybe that’s the Boy Scout in each of us. Be prepared.

But the good Boy Scout also knows that if you’re going on a 50-mile hike, you want the pack on your back to be as light as possible. So you carefully plan ahead of time and bring only what you need. The time honored motto “be prepared” is no more appropriate than when applied to the business traveler.

With regard to the issue of wrinkled clothing, the answer both to how you pack and what you pack. We all know that some fabrics travel better than others. Fiber content, how a cloth is woven, and many other factors contribute to wrinkle resistance. Wool is more wrinkle resistant than cotton as is cloth that is more tightly woven rather than a loose weave. Most synthetic fibers are particularly wrinkle resistant as are some natural fiber fabrics that have been treated to be either no-iron or “easy care.”

Navy microfiberReport shirt

For business casual, resort wear, and golf, the new microfiber pants from Tom James provide a wrinkle-free, easy care, and very comfortable option  for those who can wear a ready-made size. For a modern, tailored-fit, dress casual shirt option, consider easy-care shirts by Report.

Packing Tips to prevent/reduce wrinkled clothing:

  • Packing any jackets or shirts on hangers? Try covering each piece with plastic garment cover that you get from the dry-cleaner.
  • Roll clothing, instead of folding whenever possible.
  • Make use of packing sleeves, cubes, sweater bags, etc.
  • Pack and use a handheld/travel size steamer.

One of my favorite bits of travel advice comes from frequent international traveler Jim H. who said, “I like to bring items attached to good memories. A hand-made linen pocket square with embroidery from a trip to Sestri Levante, Italy. A pair of Celtic cuff links my wife returned from Dublin with. Keepsakes that have fond memories attached to them.” If you have to be away from home so much, at least you can bring a little bit of home or the ones you love most with you.

More advice from Jim:

  • Carry a pair of cuff links or silk knots as well as a small handful of collar stays in your briefcase. “The case never leaves my side and you never know whose day you might save besides your own.”
  • When you think you have packed enough, remove something. You’d be surprised what you don’t need.
  • Wear part of an outfit when you travel rather than pack it.

Joe B. is particularly fond of his black suede lace-up shoes for travel because they look smart with everything from jeans to formal wear.  He also told me that his Global Entry TSA Pre Check card is a must for frequent travelers. “It saves me hours, days and weeks over the course of a year,” said Joe.

More travel tips that will make packing easier and simpler,  save you time and may even save the day:

  •  Keep the variety of color and patterns of your clothing to a minimum.  Choose clothing for ease of coordination and versatility.
  •  Put your passport in a shoe you plan to wear, then into the safe in your hotel room. On a recent trip to Scandinavia my sister-in-law left her passport in the hotel room safe. (She must not have known about the shoe idea.) Fortunately we had left the hotel only minutes earlier so it was easy to retrieve.  Imagine the problem it might have been had she discovered the error two days later when trying to leave the country?  Which leads to the next point…..
  • Make a photo copy of your passport/driver’s license and keep the copies in a different bag than the originals.
  •  Put a business card on the inside of your bags.
  • Stash an extra credit card somewhere other than your primary wallet/card holder.
  •  Put a colorful ribbon or some similarly unique identifier on any checked luggage, especially if it’s a black bag that looks like so many others – to make it more easily recognizable.
  • Stick to your travel routine (where you put your license, etc.).  Keep things in the same pockets, etc.
  • It’s best not to check anything that you might need for the next day.  Try to keep those things, including the next day’s clothing, in your carry-on.
  • Last but not least, pack everything in a great piece of luggage, like the TUMI Alpha Two-wheeled Carry-on.

TUMI Alpha 2 carry on


Incorporate these ideas and featured products and take the hassle out of travel, whether for business or pleasure.