Friday, March 30, 2012

An Army of One

("Springtime and the Average Guy," part three of three)
Chapter 60
Dress Like A Grownup! continues its miniseries on the clothes of Springtime this week, by appealing again to the Average Guy. As my little blog builds worldwide fame and acclaim amongst my ever-growing cadré of readers and followers, there will always be a man who is starting from Square One -- the man who comes to that epiphanal moment in his life, when he looks at himself in the mirror and says something along the lines of "Egad; I'm dressed like a ten year old!" And then decides to do something about it.

But, facing the daunting task of absorbing over a year's worth of information can be overwhelming for the novice. What is the Average Guy to do? Go back to the very beginning and read every blog installment, in sequence -- or at the very least, to read "Dress Like A Grownup! Volume One," the bookbound distillation of our Dressing the Average Guy series? It will take weeks if you follow the directions contained therein. Is there a short-cut that can be taken in the meantime, that will suffice to get the Average Guy through the Spring season with minimal effort?

Why, yes, there is. What I am about to impart to you may change your life and the way you think about clothes. You, the Average Guy, can slingshot your sartorial training far forward in one simple step, while you build your discipline and educational background for being truly well dressed, in your own time. You don't have to understand the whys and wherefores, the history or the theory. Just go through the motions for now, and fill in the blanks as you go.

If there was ever a "Dressing Well for Dummies," this is it. Education optional, plug-and-play simplicity. It involves the purchase of exactly one item to supplement your existing wardrobe: 

One lightweight cotton or wool sports jacket. That's all. Your Spring can be fundamentally transformed. It's like magic.

If you are a student on your Dress Like A Grownup! path to sartorial excellence™, so much the better! Students are notoriously light on discretionary funds, and spare scratch to spend on new and better clothing is hard to come by, what with more pressing matters to attend to, like beer. textbooks and lab fees. The purchase of this one jacket can stand in for a good half-dozen or more uses, and, as a rising tide lifts all boats, will make your current wardrobe that tiny bit more acceptable by its presence -- that is, until you can afford to supplement your wardrobe with, well, real clothes.

First, let's look at just what you need in this aforementioned "sports jacket." It may be of a light and neutral color and pattern, preferably notch-lapelled and single-breasted, to match a variety of outfits. It should be of a light cotton or wool, either unlined, half-lined, or very lightly constructed. This is spring, after all, and if you are unused to wearing anything but a greasy tee-shirt, a light jacket will cause you the least amount of discomfort. And it needs to fit. It also doesn't have to be new, if you can find something serviceable at the secondhand store. You needn't worry about the details of style at this point, as this is basically "emergency wear" to get you through the first weeks of your newly-found adultitude without undue duress. You will undoubtedly replace it as you discover your sartorial center in time; and you will not wear it beyond mid-summer in any case.

Now, we'll demonstrate how this simple jacket alone can transform the average man's wardrobe into something approaching acceptability. 

The baseline for mediocrity in men's wear the world over is an untucked tee-shirt, hip-hugger jeans, and some form of flippity-flop footwear. Atrocious, you'll agree. Now add the jacket. Voila -- your outfit is now "ironically casual." Still awful, but now less so.

Let's up the ante a bit, to what most men call "dressing up," to a polo shirt, khaki chinos, and athletic shoes. An adult society might call this barely acceptable attire for even mowing your lawn. But put your jacket on, and hey-presto, you've crossed the line into a fine sort of sporty-casual, easy as that.

Say you're really putting on the Ritz, going out to dinner for instance. You'll wear your "good jeans," and a short-sleeved shirt. You thought that was just fine before...but add your jacket, and alakazam! Instant spring-dressy. 

Let's say it's chilly and drizzly, and you put on your usual cold-weather gear: your "warm jeans" and a sweatshirt. But wait! The addition of your jacket makes a sharp rainy-day ensemble!

Now let's go the other direction: warm and sunny. What would you wear? Cargo shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, perhaps? Not so fast -- add that same light jacket, and you've just made a Bermuda suit!

Surely there can't be more...but yes! You're at the beach, on vacation, soaking up the rays, or at the cabana. Swim trunks and flip flops are the norm. You can't mean -- but I can! Trunks and a jacket? Absolutely! Easier to remove than a shirt, with better flow-through, and no sunburning. Bonus: worn with a scarf, it's a classic resort look from the '40s.

So you see, there's no limit to what a simple jacket can do, and no situation that doesn't benefit from wearing one. It's simple, easy, and universal. It's not the end of the road -- far from it, but it's a good first step to dressing well.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

As The Wardrobe Turns

("Springtime and the Average Guy," part two of three)
Chapter 59
Happy Spring, O My Average Guys! Yes, it's the time for Spring Break, outdoor sports, barbecues, and touring. My Advice for Spring Breakers is still timeless and required reading -- but before you get too excited, remember it's also time for yard work, repairs, and the dreaded annual Spring Cleaning. 

No, men are not exempt from Spring Cleaning. Especially now that you have endeavored to make the leap into dressing like an adult, you have some regular closet maintenance to take care of now. Specifically, the Seasonal Wardrobe Rotation. Clothes are seasonal things, as you should know by now, and the seasons are not "tee shirt" and "sweatshirt." Proper attire means more attire, and more specialized attire. Unless you have a cavernous closet, you should only have hangers for the current season's needs: no more than three months. In other words, there's no need to keep your heavy coats on hangers anymore -- they need to make way for sweaters and sport coats, and later on, polo and aloha shirts, before making way for the tweeds and wools of winter again. 

Clearing out hanger space begs the question, what do you do with the off-season's clothes? The answer is self-evident -- put them in the space left over by this season's clothes. Exactly where that is, depends on your own situation. If you don't have spare cedar-lined wardrobes scattered around your mansion, then a dresser, chest of drawers, or trunk, is the obvious solution. There are underbed storage solutions available for those tight on space. If you pack carefully and take steps to ensure the contents are  kept dry, even a cardboard box in the attic or cellar works well. Don't underestimate the value of a SpaceBag® storage cube, either; they really do work wonders. For those truly bereft of extra storage space, such as students and the like, think of using space that you're already using, such as storing your off-season clothes in your suitcases.

When packing away for the season, you want to make sure your clothes are clean and dry, so they will be ready to use again as soon as you unpack them. You needn't dry clean everything you own -- but you should make sure they are free of dirt, beaten well and "rolled" to remove lint and dust, and brushed with a clothes brush.

The question of just how to fold a coat is not one to take lightly. If you've had any experience with coats at all, you've noticed that, as well as they behave on a hanger, they can be darned unruly anywhere else. The shaped construction of the shoulders and chest don't seem to want to fold and pack away neatly. Don't worry; this is not a new problem. For hundreds of years, men have endeavored to find a way to fold their coats that would leave them wrinkle-free and fresh after extended storage.

There has always been a subtle black magic to folding a coat. There are some Internet tutorials on how to do it properly; but as these are varied, and sometimes conflicting in their information, I'll show you how to fold a few different sorts of coat when you put them away. 

The first thing to realize is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Coats are of all different weights and styles of construction, and what works for one may not work as well for another.

First, I'll show the oldest method of folding, which dates back to before 1820. It works best on heavy, full-length coats without shaping in the shoulders. I'll demonstrate this on my winter Ulster coat. It's a box-coat, made full and square with no shaping at all, big enough to wear another heavy coat underneath it.. It's massive, but not padded or shaped. 

The first thing to do is lay it out flat and face down. 

Then turn the shoulders in so that they meet at the center back seam. 

Double the sleeves over at the elbow.

Unfold the lapels, and fold the fronts over so that they cover the sleeves.

It's important to make sure that the fabric is laying down perfectly smooth and even without any wrinkles.

Fold the coat in half such that the bottom edge is even with the collar.

Turn the coat over, and it should look like this. If you have a large, flat area to store your coats, you should stop here. The fewer folds the coat has, obviously, the less creasing you will see next winter. 

If you have a smaller area to fit your coat, fold it in half again. Several heavy coats will stack in a drawer this way.

If your coats have "hard" shoulders, the old method shown above won't work as well: it'll mash the shoulders flat and cause trouble later on. This next method works best for long, shaped coats. Here is a camel hair paletot. It's not an overcoat, but made to wear over a shirt like a jacket, with jacket-style shaping in the waist and shoulders. 

Lay the coat out flat as before. This time, turn one shoulder inside out, and turn that side of the front across to the back.

Hold the inside-out shoulder, put your hand in the other shoulder, and tuck the shoulders together. 

The result should look like this. Both shoulders are nested together: they support each other's padding, and the coat's lining faces out. The lapels and collar are unfolded. Make sure the sleeves nest together smoothly without wrinkles.

Then take the lapels and turn them inside the coat.

Turn the skirts halfway up like this.

Then fold the top half over, and this coat is ready to be packed away. 

The last remaining method I'll show is a hybrid of these two methods. It's very useful with short coats and jackets with lightly padded shoulders, but without a lot of shaping. Here's a heavy-ish tweed coat of mine. It's nice for the cold, but I have lighter tweeds for Spring, so in the trunk it goes!

Start with the coat face down.

Then turn both shoulders inside out. 

And then, fold both front sides over. Essentially, you've turned the coat inside-out, with the sleeves inside and the collar unfolded. Make sure the sleeves are laying smoothly inside.

Fold the coat in half...

...and in half again. This is a good space-saving method for these sorts of coats.

As you can see, each method results in a compact package with minimal creases, wrinkles, and stresses on the fabric. They all have several things in common, though -- They turn the lining out to protect the fabric, they fold around the sleeves so they can't get loose and flop around, they use as few folds as possible, and they all unfold the collar and lapels. When late Fall rolls around, you can be assured that when you crack open your trunk, your heavy coats will be fresh and ready to wear with minimal attention! 

Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about using mothballs, unless you have a bug problem in your area. Most modern homes are tight enough not to have to worry about such things -- unless you really like that old-world wool-and-camphor smell. For many, the smell of mothballs in winter clothes brings back strongly pleasant olfactory memories of family, grandparents, and Christmastime.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Venial Equinoxious

("Springtime and the Average Guy," part one of three)
Chapter 58
Spring! It's not just an arbitrary date when the weather starts getting nicer, you know; it's a specific point in space when the axis of our little blue marble lines up most nearly perpendicularly to the plane of its orbit. The sun shines square down upon the equator, and for a brief moment, at 1:13 DST in the morning on Tuesday, March 20, daytime and nighttime are exactly 12 hours each. (Well, 12 hours 6½ seconds each, if you want to get really specific.) The days have been getting longer bit by bit since the winter solstice, of course; at first so slowly as to be barely noticeable, but now the daily lengthening is happening in earnest. And here, at the tipping point when light starts overtaking dark, and the solar ecliptic continues its inexorable glide up to the Tropic of Cancer, something clicks, and the world (the northern half, anyway,) starts waking up.

The winter has been full of advanced tailoring concepts here at Dress Like A Grownup!, what with awards critiques and suit surgeries and such, but lest we run too far ahead afield, let's take a week to address the bread-and-butter of this blog, the Average Guy. You, my Average Guys, are not interested in the minutia of formal wear and setting sleeve pitches -- you want practical advice and direction in navigating the hitherto unknown world of dressing with style and aplomb, like a functioning adult in a world of adults, instead of a man-boy whose sartorial development was arrested somewhere in high school.

Your sartorial experimentation has doubtless been quelled somewhat through the winter. Such niceties as color, and shape, and style, have taken a back seat to the more utilitarian matter of not freezing to death as soon as you step outside. And that's understandable. You can't always reach for a velvet-collared Chesterfield when facing the bitter winds of winter; nor can you cut a fashionable silhouette when bundled in heavy trousers, sweaters, and waterproof parkas. I myself have fallen prey to the convenient bulky coat with attached hood, and not only a few times, over the last months.

But now! Now is the time to pack all your winter Fiberfil®-stuffed balloonwear in its vacuum-sealed spacebaggery, and get back to dressing like an adult, instead of Randy Parker from A Christmas Story.

Unfortunately, the majority of men will mark the passage of Winter into Spring by immediately breaking out the cutoff shorts, flipflops and tee shirts the moment the thermometer hits 70 degrees. (Continental types may read this as 20º.) You've seen it -- you may have even done it, in your ill-informed youth. It's as if Man has developed two modes of dress: bundled or none. For the Average Guy who is a true aspiring man of fashion, as well as those of you who merely want to improve your current mode of dress, Spring is a marvelous time of transition, that gives you the freedom and latitude to try out many different adult sartorial styles.

Since the cold of February has given way to the breezes of March, give thought to making sport coats a regular part of your wardrobe. Not just the tweeds, either, but lighter wools and cottons can play a rôle as well. Get into the habit of reaching for a light sports jacket instead of a windbreaker, and utilize the shirt, rather than the jacket, to dress against the brisker days: a heavy cotton or flannel shirt under a light sport coat can look quite smart. On the odd day that's truly inclement, start to think of layering a sweater under that light jacket instead of reverting to bundling under a heavy coat. The more you can resist reversion to your wintry ways, the better.

It's a good time to try more adventurous things at this time of year; things you aren't quite used to yet. Try wearing a long tie with a collar bar, or better yet, give bow ties a shot once in awhile; or even a light square scarf tied as a day cravat under a shirt, for the indomitably impavid. If you've never attempted stiff detachable collars, spring is a good time of year to give them a try and see if they fit your personality. Tattersall or odd waistcoats are right at home in Spring weather. On the warmer days, a waistcoat sans jacket would not be out of place, if you want to experiment with that endeavor; or a well-fit v-neck tennis sweater. Spring is ideal "hat weather" if you have been looking at a fedora or trilby -- or if you are truly fearless, even the treacherous ground of the straw skimmer. (Baseball caps need not apply.) If you have ever thought about two-toned or suede shoes of the saddle or spectator variety, but thought they were too garish to be worn, now is the time.

In your experimentation, don't go overboard with bright springtime colors or whites -- the time for that is still traditionally after Easter and into summer. The warmer, darker earth-tones and hues of winter still apply, at least for now. It's one of the reasons this month is so ideal for trying new things: the color palatte doesn't draw undue attention to itself, so you can be a bit bolder with the choice and cut of the articles and accessories!

Of course, the rules of moderation and good taste should always be followed. You want to appear insouciant and casual, as if you did not put a great deal of time or forethought into your attire. You also want to not appear overdressed or anachronistic. And you never want to look like you're trotting out brand-new clothes you've just bought. Weigh the adventurous against the traditional, and find your balance: your clothes should never overpower yourself. Try one thing, then another -- but if you put too much oddity together at once, you risk a Gatsby costume, which is where the uninitiated and unknowledgeable invariably end up.

The point here is to get into the habit of dressing well. Even if it's just a sport coat, go with that. If you condition yourself to even a minimum level of proper dress, you will cultivate the discipline to maintain that level. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Happy, Sleevey, Doc

(Part 13 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 57

When we last left our jacket project, we were working with the sleeves. The lining and wadding were basted in place, the sleeve pitch was set, and the arms were basted into the armscye. In fact, it would look to the casual observer that we were nearly done. 

Well, almost. Now isn't the time to start cutting corners, so to speak. It is a maxim even amongst professional tailors that bad sleeves can ruin a perfectly-cut coat. Now, our sleeves are already made, so we don't have to worry about that aspect of it -- but a sleeve that has merely been badly sewn-in can be just as bad as a poorly-cut sleeve when all is said and done. Things can look "off," asymmetrical, uneven; pulls and creases can develop out of nowhere just from the weight of the sleeve itself. Now is the time, while we're still at the basting stage, to make sure the sleeves are as perfectly set as it is possible for you to get them.

The first thing to do is get out your measuring tape, and compare the two sleeves against each other. Are they the same distance from the center-back seam? Are the bottom of the arms the same depth? If they are not, you need to determine why not. When both sleeves came off, they were perfectly matched, after all. We haven't changed the sleeves themselves one whit. Are both arms put in with the same amount of round? Does one looks like a long oval, while the other is a wide oval? 

If so, now is the time to fix it. I find the top of the shoulder and down the front is less likely to be off, than down the back and under the arm, due to the thinness of the material at the back. Usually, things can move around a bit, so don't be discouraged if you find yourself a half-inch off or so when you compare the two. (I won't tell anyone if you won't.) Just take out the basting stitches along the error and try again. It's perfectly acceptable to "fudge" the shape of the armscye a bit to make both sides look even.

Basting under the arm can be especially tricky: you're working in tight quarters, in an awkward position, with thin fabric, in a critical area. You can pretty much expect to re-position this area more than once.

A common mistake is to put the back of the sleeves in too tight. You need a little ease at the blades, to give you room to move your arms. You may have seen bespoke jackets that fit very smoothly all around the arms. They are very tricky, and need a very small armscye to give the right freedom of movement. We don't have that luxury, so give yourself a half-inch or so of extra fabric; enough to pinch like this. It's called "drape," and is a legitimate way to tailor a jacket's back, so don't worry about that. Without that little bit of drape, you may find the sleeves are too restrictive.

It may take several tries to match the sleeves perfectly, but the result will be worth the extra effort you take. It's going to be necessary to try the jacket on several times, to make sure the fit and sleeve pitch is right, and you need someone who can observe you from the back and tell you if the sleeves are symmetric, well-shaped, and there are no pulls or wrinkles across the back. Even with a mirror, it's nearly impossible to do this by yourself. (Be careful not to pull out the basting threads when donning and doffing the jacket, and don't catch your arm on the edge of the sleeve lining -- it's annoyingly easy to do.)

I myself had to re-set both sleeves three times and readjust one of the side seams, before I was happy with the results. Every try will be different, so I won't bore you with endless pictures of the process. You may end up with a forest of contrast thread around the sleeve seams. That's will all be worth it. Promise.

After the last try-on, after you have the "hey--I've got it right!" moment, it's time for the final stitching. Actually, you'll stitch the sleeves twice around each. The first time will be from the outside, using the same old running backstitch with which you've become so familiar over the last few months. Remove the marking and basting stitches that get in your way as you go.

Then, from the inside, stitch together the layers of wadding, canvassing, and all, just inside the stitch you've already sewn. This will be the anchoring stitch that holds everything together against the strain of moving your arm. Make this one a single backstitch: instead of loading the needle with running stitches as you've done before, simply go two-stitches-forward-one-stitch-back, all the way around. It's a good deal stronger, with more elasticity; which is just what you need here. The trade off is that it takes a lot longer to sew. 

When you are done with the inside stitching, pull out all the basting and marking stitches that are left. Now we're getting somewhere! With the arms properly sewn in, the sleeves should flow gracefully down from the shoulders in a smooth arc, without pulls or wrinkles. (If you made my tailor's form from last year, you have "stub arms" on your shoulders, which may slightly disrupt the flow of the arms on your form. You may want to check it on a suit hanger; but of course what really matters is that it looks good when you are wearing it!

There are only a few steps that remain until our jacket project is well and truly finished -- the bottom hem has to be turned under, the lining has to go back in place, the front buttons will be set, and finally, the sleeve length will be fine-tuned. And we'll continue with that next time. Stay tuned!

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Oscar Grouching

Chapter 56
A rare treat for you, readers! You have two Dress Like A Grownup! blogs this week: for I have guest-hosted the Who's the Dandy: Oscars Edition on! Its concern is mainly with the best-dressed gents of the evening with some dandy observations; go forth and read it now! Really; go on. I'll be here when you get back. 
. . . . . .

Back already? Good. Whom did you choose? Since now you've seen the best of the evening, let's waste no time and do what we do on this blog, which is look at some more winners as well as the sartorial train-wrecks at the other end of the spectrum.

Ofttimes, the winners of the technical awards, who rarely see the light of day, much less the glare of the limelight, were dressed better than the actors who live their lives in the world's scrutiny. Alaxander Payne, writer for The Descendants, despite looking awkward in front of the camera, still rocks a midnight blue shawl-collar dinner suit. Note the pleasing shape of the collar compared to the current trend of skinny lapels. Note the buttonhole in the lapel -- it's there specifically for a boutonniere. It serves no other aesthetic or practical function on a shawl lapel: so if you do have one, stick a flower in it. 

Colin Firth: same tux (in black,) but the subtleties of presentation give a completely different effect. One, a writer. Another, an actor. What a difference a few years of acting can make! That, and the presence of the redoubtable Mrs. Firth.

What do John Corbett and Mario Lopez have in common? The long tie? NO. Rather, that their dinner suits would have looked so very much better with a bow tie. Silk lapels visually fight with a long tie; they work along with a silk bow. Why aren't people taught this?

Antonio Banderas, what happened to you? You were once so suave and macho and exotic. Then came Puss-in-Boots and the Nasonex Bee. Now look at you! The tie, the lapels, the would be hard to put together a suit that would make a man look more weedy and insignificant.

Except perhaps this. Matthew Lillard, with dinner jacket from the David Byrne Stop Making Sense collection. Honestly, Matt, you should have gone in for that second fitting. It's a tad large.

Oh, James Cromwell was a guest? I just sent him backstage for more gaffer's tape. How embarrassing. 

Sometimes, there's nothing to be done but go home and start over. Just....start over.

It's not all bad, though.

Gary Oldman wore a tux that was a little fashion-forward, but not embarrassingly so: the waistcoat adds what the silk taping and notch lapels take away. Without the vest, the suit wouldn't work for the Oscars. Maybe the Grammys.

There was a definite improvement over the year's previous hollywoody awards shindigs re: the number of waistcoats and bow ties that were worn. It doesn't take a lot; just a modicum of attention to detail, to complete the semi-formal look properly.

Jason Segal, as an example, is doing everything more or less right, save for the vest, which he badly needs to cover his waistband. Notice also, the awkward gap between his second and third shirt studs. A mistake? No, a tailoring detail: that gap is where the crossover for the waistcoat should be... is ably demonstrated by James Earl Jones. Thank you, Darth Jones.

Finally, a few remarks relating to part one of this post, on I mentioned Dujardain's waistcoat-shyness during the evening, taking care to always fasten his dinner jacket. I find this perplexing, for a man who has taken fastidious steps to be otherwise well dressed. He should know it's always more proper to leave the jacket unbuttoned and show the waistcoat. He should also know his trousers are too long, but that could be a side-effect of cramming his hands in his pockets. And yes, technically dinner suits are worn with a stiff fold collar, not a wing collar -- but this doesn't mean that the wing collar is incorrect; merely more formal. In light of the fact that the Academy Awards used to be full dress, I find this completely acceptable; as it would be to wear a white tie and waistcoat with dinner dress. For a true semi-formal event, like an actual dinner party, it would be over the top.

And my answer to the question que es mas dandy? 

My choice is Tom Hanks' double breasted Edwardian togs. The fit is perfect, the casual tie is a perfect counterpoint to it, the details are casual, and, unlike nearly everyone else there, since a double-breasted dinner jacket is always to be worn buttoned, it needs no waistcoat and thus is being worn completely properly. Bravo, Mr. Hanks!

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