Category Archives: Tom Talks

The Iconic and Essential Navy Blazer

Could Civilization (western anyway) survive without it?

My first serious piece of clothing from the local men’s store (The Squire) was a navy blazer – a wool/poly blend, purchased for my high school graduation. I realize that some of you reading this got your first blazer at a much earlier age; but for me, that jacket was symbolic of my transition into manhood and filled me with pride.


Not including the powder blue leisure suit, purchased a few years earlier, of which nothing more needs to be said, I didn’t get my first “real” suit, a three-piece grey herringbone, until I was a senior in college. A more modern approach to wardrobe building might be to purchase the suit first; with a blazer (and grey trousers)being the second addition. Either way, the essential nature and casual elegance of a navy blazer is inarguable.

For those who care about such things, red, green, navy or blue, or a boldly striped cloth containing similar tones, would all fall within the range of acceptability for a jacket properly referred to as a blazer. Respected sources, G. Bruce Boyer in particular, suggest that the original blazer was in fact “red” and was worn by the members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club of St. John’s College, Cambridge.

The term “blazer” referred more to the color – which appeared to be set-a-blaze – than to anything else about the jacket. The model for what most of us now think of as a blazer has nautical roots, thus the term “navy blazer.”  Midshipmen in the British Navy began wearing short navy jackets called “reefers” as early as the 1820’s. (The multiple meanings of the term “reefer” are the subject of a different blog.)

Navy blue, more than any other hue, has long been the international standard for the most fundamental and versatile of “odd jackets” (a jacket not belonging to a full suit of clothes.) The most traditional cloths for a blazer are wool serge, gabardine, or flannel. More often than not a blazer would be accented by gold (or brass) buttons, historically exhibiting the crest of one’s family or club. For a more relaxed look the buttons could also be bone or mother-of-pearl, ranging in color from white to a medium or even dark brown.

The navy or blue blazer remains a beloved and iconic wardrobe essential because of its universal acceptance, extreme versatility, and at least a mildly subconscious if not direct connection to the sea and a sense of discovery. What’s better, there are numerous ways to fine tune the details of a blazer to make it both a classic and very personal expression. Your Tom James Clothier can help you design one that is just right for you.

Already have a blazer? Think that a blazer is just too basic? Consider these five ways to update your blazer in a way that you will thoroughly enjoy:

  1. If the blazer you own is made from a smooth cloth, choose one with noticeably more texture. Or vice versa.
  2. Pick a new shade of navy or blue. Dare to go blue and enjoy the compliments.
  3. Go Double Breasted this time. Classic elegance epitomized.
  4. Get a new blazer with an updated, trimmer fit.
  5. Have your next blazer made by Oxxford (Worth every penny. It will change the way you think and feel about clothing.)

Blazing new trails,

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,

A Checkered Future

Build momentum by adding checks to your summer shirt wardrobe

There are some who have lived a “checkered past,” experiencing periods of trouble or controversy as well as periods of success. Tiger Woods, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton come to mind. Such lives and characters provide excellent source material for gripping tales and cinematic triumphs. It is unlikely that anyone sets out to create that kind of past. Choices are made and things happen. That’s life.

In suggesting that you might intentionally consider a “checkered future” let me be clear that I am limiting my range of comments to nothing more than what you put on to cover your upper body, otherwise known as a shirt. Even if you have rarely dared to go beyond classic white and blue solid shirts with your business attire, I implore you to read on with an open mind.

On a recent weekend I wore a new shirt with a windowpane check pattern. The overwhelming amount of compliments I received regarding my appearance was one of life’s simple pleasures. Mind you, the colors of the shirt – a turquoise blue and rosy brown – worked especially well with my hair and skin tones, but my otherwise plain gray suit came to life like never before because of the shirt. Since the shirt was the lead actor, my choice of necktie took on a supporting role and was therefore relatively subdued and simple: a nearly solid number that picked up the brown tone in the shirt.

Checked shirt are not formal. For an important meeting, court appearance, or evening occasion, a clean and crisp, white broadcloth would be my first choice. But to break up the routine and to show a little more personality and creative acumen, a checked shirt inside of the simple frame of a solid suit or blazer (or the same with a subtle and open pattern) will demonstrate sophisticated elegance and an easy going swagger.

Of course, keep in mind a basic principle regarding pattern:
The larger and/or bolder the pattern, the more casual or informal the garment. Dimension coupled with intensity determine where a given piece of clothing fits into the continuum of formality.

Because we are custom shirt makers, we can also add detail to the “inside” of your collars and cuffs with a contrasting/coordinating fabric. For example, consider using a checked pattern for the inside of the collar and cuff – made visible when you are not wearing a tie and when you roll up your sleeves.

One final note: If you find that you are wearing a tie less often now than you used to, then some checks (or bolder stripes) will help you to easily achieve a “finished look,” rather than looking like you forgot to finish.

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.