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Austrian style

13 Apr

Austrian flagOne of my friends is from Vienna and works in the Trade division for the Austrian Consulate in Toronto. She organized a trade event to showcase Austrian food and wine and asked me to help out, which I did on Tuesday night. It was a fun, day-long event and a good turn out with many Austrian delegates and business people, plus European and Canadian guests.

Austrians are friendly, polite, and reserved; efficient and no-nonsense. They are a culture of people who enjoy life, tasty cheese, meats, and condiments; beer, radlers, and wine (speaking of, if you’ve never tried Grüner Veltliner, you must!).

Besides all of the delicious Austrian products at the trade event, I was struck with something else: the look of the Austrian men.

Suits

Habsburg Tacht suit

A modern Tacht suit from Austria’s Kleidermanufaktur Habsburg

The Austrian businessmen’s suit cuts are different than what we’re used to seeing in Canada (i.e. Kenneth Barlis’ fall-winter 2017 collection featured at TOM* – Toronto Men’s Fashion Week, includes very short jackets in dazzling colours). Austrian suit jackets are worn much longer and trousers are roomier as well.

Austrian suits are conservative and practical with straighter cuts than other European styles. English or Italian fits can be quite body-consciousness and sculpted to show off the body line, but not so with the more modest Austrians.

Traditional Tracht jackets are worn by men (and sometimes women) in German-speaking countries including Austria.These structured garments are easy to spot: they are typically styled with a stand up collar with or without lapels, with a of row of fancy buttons and buttonholes all the way up to the neck. These jackets often feature contrast material or decorative braid to adorn pockets, collars, and jacket edges.

Traditional Tacht jacket

Details of Tracht clothing have found their way into modern designs. Kleidermanufaktur Habsburg, an Austrian lifestyle clothing brand, features traditional Tracht designs with noble, “imperial roots”, as their website states. The navy suit above, from their 2016 fall-winter collection, reflects the traditional features in this updated version of the Tracht jacket.

Colour and other details

The last time I was at an Austrian trade event, I noticed the suit colour choices and decided to speak with one of the delegates about it.

“I noticed that you’re all in navy suits,” I said. “No one is wearing a brown suit. Why is that?”

“Brown suits are only for managers!” the Austrian businessman insisted.

All of the Austrian men at the trade event wore black lace-up shoes and belts without exception. In North America, we’re used to seeing brown/cordova shoes and belts to mix up a business look, but not for these men.  Theirs is a very quiet, traditional look for business.

There were no adornments outside of a neat, conservative tie worn with their navy suits and white shirts; not a coloured sock nor a pocket square in the room; no French cuffs, no cuff links. Austrian business men wear their hair short and keep their faces clean-shaven.

At the trade event, as I stood pouring samples at the Ottakringer beer table for the day, I realized that Austrians seem to prefer things simple, clean, and light. For Austrian businessmen, their whole look is elegant, neat and uncomplicated – very much like their taste in beer.

Follow the dress code

2 Feb
At a semi-formal event, don't show up in a t-shirt.

At a semi-formal event, don’t show up in a t-shirt.

I was out at a networking event at a hotel in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood last night. The invitation gave a semi-formal dress code, so I put on a dress and a pair of heels and went on my way.

When I got there, what I saw when I surveyed the crowd of entrepreneurs confused me. Though the dress code was quite clear, several men were in very casual dress. It made me wonder if they came straight from their non-semi-formal work place to the semi-formal event, and didn’t, or weren’t able to pay any heed to the event expectations.

One of these casual men  approached me and inquired about my business. Depending on the person, some men will get really excited because they’re talking to the first woman in Canada to specialize in men’s image, others will look downtrodden because they remember what they decided to wear that day, and still others will outright recoil (possibly out of shame or fear of being judged). This particular man was a member of the business team that put the event together, and he took a great interest in my work.

Of course, he asked me how he was doing with his wardrobe. Normally, this costs money, no different than asking for free legal advice, but I indulged him. I stepped back and took in his ordinary shoes, jeans, and a white knit Henley shirt.

“Well,” I said, “you’re in very casual clothes tonight.”

“Yes, is that okay?” he asked.

“Considering that the invitation says “semi-formal”,  you didn’t seem to pay that any mind.”

“So what is your advice?” he asked.

“Dress for the dress code.”

It’s simple, really. When an invitation gives a suggestion of what to wear so that you are appropriate for and comfortable at the event, follow that lead. Otherwise, it creates confusion in people and probably isn’t that good for business because you’ve entered an event on a rule and broken it. We only get one chance to make a first impression.

When a person is under-dressed or looks as though they have not made any attempt to dress for the level that is expected, it can have a negative impact. A casual look at a semi-formal occasion may conjure impressions of laziness, ignorance, disdain, spite, and a devil-may-care attitude – not exactly a respectable image to project at a business event where you’re trying to sell your services.

The best thing to do is dress for the dress code. It exists for a reason, and your appropriate look will be much more appealing to others – especially in a business setting. Even if you’re still in jeans, take a sports jacket to the event – this will immediately elevate your outfit. Another option is to change your footwear to a fancier, more stylish shoe – this can also up your look.

First impressions are hard to shake. Do it right the first time and heed the dress code.

Trends 2017: Pleats

5 Jan types of pleats

Trends. The shepherds of western culture that drive fashion-conscious humans and a sizable chunk of the economy. Trends, which I prefer to call styles, have their own individual origins and exist for different reasons. Some styles are attractive and flatter more people, and some are not and flatter few.

Many men have spoken to me about modern menswear  and wonder why clothes have become so tight. I tell them that like everything else in clothing history, when a trend – ignited by a king’s, actor’s, or musician’s taste, or a style worn in a popular movie or TV show (Mad Men, I’m looking at you) – takes hold, it moves into the extreme before morphing into something else.

types of pleats

Types of pleats used in men’s trousers.

We’re nearing the end of the tight, close-cut suit/trouser style cycle, and waiting for the next change in slow-moving menswear silhouettes. For men who have not been interested in, or are indeed incapable of squeezing themselves into the razor-sharp skinny suits that we’ve seen over the last few years, this is good news. Good news in the shape of pleats. Pleats add space to pant legs that some men will find more comfortable to wear than the current skinny cuts.

Yes, pleats shall return, but not pleats like the pleats of the recent past – i.e. the horrible double-pleated pant style leftover from the 80s that plagued the 90s and early 2000s, that were often made of beige, too-thick, un-drapable cotton twill. You know the ones.

trouser pleat pattern

Trouser leg pattern with two pleats, folded line to line at top.

Depending on the thickness of the fabric, pleats will add bulk to a man’s frame because a pleat is measured by its depth – i.e. a 1″ pleat is really 2″added into the front leg of the trouser (1″ folded over another 1″) and 2″ added to the back leg, which loosens the fit but adds visual weight to the frame. So all of those men who wore and unfortunately, continue to wear puffy, double-pleated, cotton twill Dockers, are only adding false weight to themselves by wearing these excessively clothy things.

Modern pleats in the men’s trousers that I’ve seen, are single pleats in thinner fabrics that take a good press and drape nicely but don’t add bulk. Modern pleats will be more body conscious.

Illustrated here, the Dolce & Grabbana Fall Winter 2017 collection features a whisper of a single pleat in this trim trouser with a roomier thigh, among the chatter of flat-front, close-cut trousers that dominate their collection.

dolce and grabanna pleated mens trouser fw17Now, I’m not saying that pleats are the bomb just yet – there is much to be said about a gent in a neat, flat-front trouser, but flat-fronts tend to be trimmer in cut which may not suit every man’s build. That’s the thing about fashion – most of the time, the designs are cut with a certain body type in mind – often not ours! – but the styles eventually make their way into the mainstream to cater to men of different builds, though menswear travels at a slow pace.

Humans are curiously fickle when it comes to fashion. They strenuously jump on the trend bandwagon, milk it for all it’s worth, then, when the clothing style invariably turns to another shape, people poo-poo what they were so adamant about adopting in the first place, and turn to the next big thing.

One day, pleated trousers will eclipse the once-fresh, skinny cuts that were so warmly welcomed when they made their appearance several years ago, and will influence the cuts of suits and sports jackets. We’re already ankle-deep in the new cycle, so there’s no turning back.

Sh*t fit

21 Jul

While waiting for a client in Club Monaco last month, I wandered into the women’s clothing section to kill some time. There was a cute little suit jacket on the rack that, upon further inspection, I deemed too large for me.

“Manity sizing” strokes a fella’s ego by “decreasing” his pant size by name only, which may in fact increase the risk of health problems.

I looked at the tag for the size.

0. Zero. Size Zero.

Were it 1960, I would be considered a size 14, but at Club Monaco in 2011, I would fit a negative size – a minus 1 or minus 2.

A minus size, a minus size; a size of no sum or consequence. How can I be a negative size?

This terrifies me in a way because  I see a negative size as a non-size and as a human, I feel erased; fitting a negative clothing size makes me feel like a non-person. What is this new sizing system and what else are they messing with?

This is a post to explain why your clothes don’t fit you.

Erratic sizing

To keep things efficient, manufacturers use “average” sizes of a cross-section of people to create patterns for different sizes (small, medium, large, etc.), classified by their height and weight. The measurements (neck measurement for men, chest, waist, hip measurement for women, etc.) are added together and divided by the number of people measured, giving “average” measurements.

But there are lots of interpretations of average and so few of us are actually average-sized, that this is just one of the factors working against us when we walk into a clothing store:

  • There is no industry standard for sizing – I have size extra small, small, medium, and an extra-large piece from Chinatown in my closet but my measurements remain static, unchanged;
  • Every designer cuts a little or a lot larger or smaller than the next designer, so each line will fit differently (e.g. Tiger of Sweden is a trim cut but Mark’s Work Warehouse has offerings for more robust fellows);
  • Some but not all manufacturers buy into “vanity sizes”, whereby a piece of clothing that may truly fit you is called something smaller (you could have an actual 34″ waist measurement but you might wear a 32″ or 33″ vanity-sized pant);
  • Each style of garment is going to fit differently on each body – e.g. the rise of the pant will give a larger waist size because it sits at a wider point on the hips.

This causes a great deal of confusion for people who have to wade through an ocean of arbitrary sizing that may or may not hold their own weight. Pun intended.

In the age of political correctness where we’re more sensitive to other’s feelings, business owners and manufacturers have to keep in mind that a compliment in the form of a “smaller (vanity) size” can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Vanity

I’ve been told by women that wearing a “smaller” size makes them feel better about themselves. I understand what it’s like to be heavy and not feel one’s best (I was pushing 150 lbs at age 22 – about 30 lbs more than I weigh now), so I can see why a size 8 would feel better than a size 12.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the vanity sizing practice began in women’s clothing, but it has seeped into menswear, adopting the name “manity sizing”. This rather dishonest sizing system has become totally out of hand, so I looked at some online research to figure out what this silly sizing system is all about. This is what I found:

“Vanity sizing is the practice of using smaller numbered sizes on bigger clothing patterns… to make customers feel better about themselves and become more inclined to buy,” says one blogger who runs a PR and marketing company.  Her opinion has a ring of supply and demand to it.

“It is important for manufacturers to have an idea of what sells because retail sales still have not fully recovered since the recession hit in 2008.”

However, on vanitysizing.com, this suggestion is (rather cuttingly) downplayed. The author of the article has an economics background and suggests that sizing is based on demographics.

“If you sell to lower-income people, your average size is going to be larger than the average size sold to rich people. Boutiques sell pricier clothes that are sized on average, smaller than product in mass merchant stores.”

A very good Esquire style blog describes the confusion with the vanity sizing for men. First, the writer calling the practice

From the Esquire style blog – vanity sizing for men’s pants.

“flattery”, but as we know, flattery can only take you so far. He says he’s got a Russell Crowe build and though he’s enjoyed his manity-sized pants, he’s still perturbed.

“This isn’t the subjective business of mediums, larges and extra-larges — nor is it the murky business of women’s sizes, what with its black-hole size zero. This is science, damnit. Numbers!”

But the numbers don’t add up and because sizing is basically a free-for-all without a standard measurement guide. The illustration below from Esquire shows to what extent we’re being lied to – to the tune of up to 5″.

Erratic sizes

The waist is the most misunderstood part of a man’s body, I think. When I’m taking my client’s measurements, I explain the waist measurement concept/confusion.

I tell them that if I were a doctor and we were doing an annual physical, I would measure his waist just above his hipbone/through the navel. Most people don’t wear their trousers that high anymore (men did in the 40s) and that means that the point at which his waistband sits is not necessarily where we’ve taken the measurement of the waist – different styles of pants with different rise lengths (the distance from the crotch to the top of the waist) will give different waist measurements at different points on the torso.

An article from The Telegraph reports findings of a study they conducted on men’s waist sizes and found that “[o]verall, 28 out of 50 garments checked were found to be larger than on the label.”

“Shoppers quite reasonably expect 32 inches to mean just that,” said Richard Cope, chief trend analyst at Mintel, a London-based market research company. “They are becoming increasingly frustrated to discover their sizes vary from fashion brand to fashion brand and from item to item.”

Confused yet? You should be.

Health problems

If clothing manufacturers began vanity sizing to make larger people feel better about themselves as some people maintain, that’s one thing, but I’m seeing this sizing practice as a dangerous denial and health threat.

Vanity sizing is delusional, offering solace in a lie and erasing any guilt from consuming another baker’s dozen, putting people at greater risk of the health problems associated with obesity.  As the Esquire blog asks, “why should pants make us feel better about badness at health?”

Obesity is an enormous social and economic problem. Pun intended. Men with larger waists face different and more serious health problems than slim guys – a Stats Can study identified type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, some cancers, and gallbladder disease associated with obesity, as well as “psychological problems, functional limitations and disabilities.”

Have a look at these astounding rates from Statistics Canada‘s study of adult obesity in Canada:

In 2004, nearly one-quarter (23.1%) of adult Canadians, 5.5 million people aged 18 or older, were obese. An additional 36.1% (8.6 million) were overweight.

The 2004 obesity figure was up substantially from 1978/79, when Canada’s obesity rate had been 13.8%.

As body mass index (BMI) increases, so does an individual’s likelihood of reporting high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. (Check your own BMI here.)

Canada’s adult obesity rate is significantly lower than that in the United States: 23.1 % compared with 29.7%. The percentage of Canadians who are overweight or obese has risen dramatically in recent years, mirroring a worldwide phenomenon.

I have to wonder if vanity/ manity/ insanity sizing is really making things better by way of our self-esteem, or if it's plunging us deeper into clothing chaos and confusion and denial about our bodies. To my mind, this sizing practice is a psychological experiment that may give extra space for denial; the man with the 41" waist who's wearing a 36" pant from Old Navy may feel a little dietary freedom because he thinks he's got room n0w: Hey, I can fit into a size 36 for the time being, so I've got room for another coupla Krispy Creme KFC Double Downs - bring it on! 

Like a temporary sugar rush before the crash, I think that as a society, we're just asking for trouble lying to people about their sizes. Sometimes I ignore sizes altogether and rely on a tape measure where the numbers are hard and they don't tell me any fibs. The point is to be comfortable in clothing that fits us, regardless of what size the marketing department gives.

Hanging your clothes

23 Jun

If you’ve been with us throughout the laundry series, you understand the environmental mess they call dry cleaning and it’s environmentally friendly alternative, wet cleaning; the self-regulated fragrance industry that adds chemical scents to your laundry products that cause allergic reactions, gendered laundry products (yes, for real), and ecological and economical wash and dry alternatives to cleaning your clothes.

Now that your clothes are clean and fresh, I’d like to offer some tips on clothing storage that will keep your clothes looking good and protect your clothing investments, no matter how much you’ve paid for them.

You might think that a hanger is a hanger, but there are many types of hangers for different types of clothes. Hangers are used for clothing storage but also for clothing support. Like anything else, clothing is subject to gravity; clothing can be heavy, so storing your clothes on hangers substantial enough to support the weight of your garments is key. wooden hanger

1. Shirts: Hang your good shirts on nice hangers – a wider wooden hanger will support the weight of your shirt. Fasten the top button to preserve the shape of the collar. (A covered wire hanger will also do, depending on the weight of your shirt – i.e. t-shirts and other knits. Uncovered wire hangers may leave rust marks on the shoulders of your shirts, so if you’re hanging your shirts to dry – and I hope you are – use a covered wire hanger.)

Wider hangers will take up more room in your closet but allow for air movement so your shirts won’t be crushed = fresher clothing, less ironing (18 wooden hangers for $19.99 at good old Canadian Tire).

suit hanger with pant clips

This wooden suit hanger supports the shoulder and features a pant clip that will keep trousers smooth.

2. This is a suit hanger. The width of the hanger supports and preserves the roundness of the jacket’s hard shoulder and takes the weight of the garment. Lighter summer suits (cotton or seersucker) can take a thinner hanger, but heavier woolen winter suits or linen suits with a bottom weight ask for a substantial hanger like the one at left – note the trouser clip – see #3 below.

A solid wood hanger  could also be used for heavy outdoor coats – this will help to keep the coat in shape.

3.  Trousers should hang straight down, not stored over a hanger – pant hanger this creates a horizontal wrinkle in the trouser leg because the garment is draped over a bar that cannot support the weight of the pant.

To avoid trouser creases, use a pant hanger: turn trousers upside down, hems together, and fold in half at the center leg crease, or match up trouser seams if there is no crease. Clip or sandwich on the hanger, depending on its style.

You went to the trouble of buying your clothing,  so protect and maintain your wardrobe. Take pride in your closet as much as you take pride in your clothes, gents, and do them right with the proper hanger.

PS: It’s summer and In the Key of He will do re-runs of posts past. Enjoy the season!

Hand-washing

9 Jun

washboardProbably the least expensive and most gentle way to clean your clothes is by hand. Hand-washing is the original old school way of cleaning clothes; before washing machines, people washed their clothes on wash boards in a bucket of soapy water, then hung them on a line to dry. To clean a whole family’s clothes must have been a very strenuous and time-consuming job.

Today, we use convenient washing machines to clean our clothes but for some garments, hand-washing is the best way. If you want to clean a fine sweater, for example, if you have delicate clothing that you don’t want to put through the rigors of a wash cycle, or if you need to clean an individual garment instead of washing a whole load, opt for hand-washing. It’s a good way to gently clean your clothes without the risk of damaging your garments with the agitator of the modern machine.

Hand wash laundry symbol

Hand wash laundry symbol

Start with a large bucket. If you don’t have a bucket, you could do the cleaning in your bathtub. Fill with warm, tepid, or cool water and add a liquid laundry soap of your choice (use mild laundry soap for fine things). If you’re cleaning a sweater, let it absorb the water and try not to handle it too much – the trick is to let it soak for a few minutes, then squeeze the suds through the sweater. Rinse by soaking in fresh cool water to release the suds.

Next, lift out the garment and squeeze out the excess water – DO NOT WRING OUT YOUR SWEATERS! Knits are woven on a grid and wringing a sweater will cause the yarns to warp and pull out of shape, perhaps forever!

Once you’ve squeezed out the water, gently shake out your sweater and shape it to lie flat on a large towel. Starting from one end, roll the towel and the sweater away from you and smooth the sweater as you go. Apply gentle pressure to the towel roll; roll all the way up. What you’re doing here is transferring the heavy water from the sweater to the towel. You can leave the roll for an hour or more, then unroll, gently lift out and shake your sweater, then lie flat on a table or other surface to dry.

Almost any piece of clothing can be hand washed: collared shirts, t-shirts, undies, etc. (denim and trousers are best washed in machines then hung to dry). Go through the steps to hand wash a sweater, but swish your non-delicate garments in the bucket to get the soap through the weave of the fabric. Rinse. Men with strong hands will have an easy time squeezing water from their garments, but take care to gently smooth out the wrinkles you’ve created afterward because your clothes will dry this way.

Notes on dryingdenim drying

Drying clothes in an electric dryer not only uses a lot of energy, it slowly but surely eats away at your clothes – check the lint trap if you don’t believe me! The sheets of lint in the lint trap is actually bits of the fibers of your clothes, and it’s a good way to slowly break down your clothes. Better alternatives are to hang wet clothes out on a clothes line if you have access to one, or drape over a drying rack.

To dry shirts, hang them on a wood or plastic hanger – fasten the top button of a collared shirt to retain the shape of the collar, and smooth out the garment (watch that the button placket, cuffs, and sleeves are smooth because they dry in the shape you leave them). Wire hangers are too thin to hold a garment that is heavy with water – the thin wire will cause the wet garment to stretch in the shoulder but a thicker hanger will solve this problem. More on clothing storage and hangers next post.

Taking the time to hand wash clothes is a great way to save on energy and save your clothes from becoming thread bare. If you are environmentally conscious, feel good about your choice to hand wash and even better, seek out a bio-degradable laundry soap to come full circle.

 

PERCs of dry cleaning

12 May

dry cleaningDry cleaning. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it’s a popular way to save time and get cleaned and pressed clothes. If you dry clean, have you ever thought about dry cleaners and their cleaning process? How about the chemicals they use to clean clothes, or the plastic around each of your individual garments? Dry cleaning may be convenient, but it’s an environmental disaster.

This past February, Ali Eldin, the owner of dry cleaning businesses in Edmonton pleaded guilty ”to offences relating to the improper handling and storage of tetrachloroethylene, commonly known as perchloroethylene, or shortened to PERC – a widely used dry cleaning solvent which poses environmental risks and is toxic to humans. Through periodic inspections over 18 months, it was evident that Eldin’s shops did not use proper safeguards for using PERC, which created hazardous waste and put the dry cleaning staff at risk. (Source.)

PERC

Dry Cleaning Report

From the 2015 Environmental Defense Dry Cleaning Report

According to Canada’s Environmental Defence Dry Cleaning Report, Removing the Stain: Getting Cancer-Causing Chemicals Out of Your Clothes, PERC ”is an organic, colourless, non-flammable liquid widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics. PERC acts as an effective solvent and stain remover for organic materials, making it one of the most popular chemicals used in dry cleaning in North America since the 1950s.”

The Report cites short-term PERC exposure symptoms as dizziness, headaches, nausea, skin, eye, and lung irritation. Long-term exposure has been linked to reproductive health issues, lung and breast cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia. If PERC spills on the ground, it finds its way into our drinking water.

PERC is a terrible choice for getting clothes clean! Yet somehow, the chemical is allowed in Canada – this federal government page on Dry Cleaning Regulations lists PERC ”on the List of Toxic Substances, Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Exposure commonly happens through contaminated air or water, including groundwater.” Environment Canada developed the following regulations around PERC to reduce its release from dry cleaning facilities:

  1. requiring more efficient dry cleaning machines that recover more PERC from the dry cleaning process;
  2. preventing PERC spills; and
  3. managing the way residues and waste water containing PERC are collected and disposed of.

Unfortunately, Toronto is the only city in Canada that measures and tracks PERC usage and emissions. We require much more protection on the municipal, provincial, and federal levels to protect our health and the environment.

If you’ve been awakened to the perils of dry cleaning, here are some alternatives to dry cleaning and tips to avoid dry cleaning altogether.

Alternatives to PERC

Dry Cleaning Report

From the Environmental Defense Dry Cleaning Report

Wet Cleaning: Instead of having your clothes dry cleaned, ask for wet cleaning, or seek out a specific wet cleaner. There are lots of them popping up – wet cleaning is also known as organic, enviro- or green-cleaning. It is by far the most efficient, non-toxic, non-polluting and least expensive of all PERC alternatives. Wet cleaning uses water and biodegradable detergent in computer-controlled washers and dryers, and specialized finishing equipment for delicates. It also costs less and uses the least amount of energy. Excellent choice!

Carbon Dioxide Cleaning: Another eco-friendly method, low in toxicity but far more expensive than wet cleaning is carbon dioxide cleaning. This method uses non-flammable, non-toxic liquid CO2 as the cleaning agent. According to an assessment by the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts,  “[t]he CO2 used in the process is derived from industrial processes as a by-product; therefore the use of the gas itself in the cleaning process does not actively contribute to global warming.”

Others: Hydrocarbon and silicone cleaning use toxic, polluting, expensive solvents that aren’t really alternatives at all. Environmental Defense says that hydrocarbon cleaning contributes to air pollution, and silicon-based cleaning uses a flammable chemical called siloxane which potentially threatens aquatic ecosystems.

As you can see, the best alternative to toxic, polluting clothes-cleaning is also the least expensive. More wet cleaners, please!

Dry Cleaning Solvents and Textiles

Be aware of what you wear and what you dry clean. According to an article on the Environmental Working Group website, a study by scientists at Georgetown University found that PERC hangs onto different types of textiles. Silk did not appear to retain any of the chemical, but high levels of residual PERC was found on dry-cleaned wool, cotton, and polyester (very common ingredients in your clothes). The study found that further dry cleaning cycles intensified the PERC concentrations in the said textiles.

The study also offered evidence of PERC emitting from wool after it’s dry cleaned. Even if inside of a plastic bag, the PERC concentrations on wool depleted by half in a week. Conclusion? PERC vaporizes from clothing and into your home/car/office – and you breathe it in.

The lesson to take away here is to simply buy clothing that you don’t have to dry clean and can safely wash yourself (suits and sports jackets excepted). Read your washing labels, follow the instructions, Bob’s your uncle.

Plastic Dry Cleaning Bags

Mary Marlowe Leverette is a Laundry Expert. She sees the thin, filmy, plastic bags that protect your newly-cleaned clothes as a long-term hazard for your clothes (not to mention a suffocation hazard if you have children). Ms. Leverette advises to ditch the plastic around your dry cleaned garments.

“Leaving freshly cleaned laundry in the flimsy plastic bag can cause yellowing, staining and weakening of fibers,” she says. “The yellowing and other changes in color is caused by BHT (butylated hydroxyl tolune), an anti-oxidant used in the manufacturing of the plastic bag. When BHT comes in contact with any moisture and impurities in the air it forms a yellow pigment that transfers to the fabric.”

Though technically dry, freshly dry-cleaned clothes are pressed with steam and then bagged – enter the moisture and the pigmentation and kiss goodbye your favourite white shirt.

A piece of advice: if you get your clothes cleaned professionally, take them out of the bag and hang outside to air out when you get them home. Even better: store your clothes in cloth garment bags (unbleached cotton would be best) instead of plastic ones that leach chemicals – the cloth bags breathe and this reduces moisture and the possibility of mold.

If you’re still dry cleaning, try wet cleaning. If you’re not wet cleaning, maybe you should be hand-washing. I’ll fill you in on that next post as the laundry series continues.

Fall 2015: Time for a footwear check

29 Oct

Alright lads, no matter where you are in Canada, you may be experiencing a spray of El Nino/Hurricane Patricia thatAldo cleaner beat the west coast of Mexico this week. The Weather Network says that half of Canada is affected by the storm as of Wednesday, with high winds and heavy rain.

If you have to go out in this stormy weather, you may have dragged out last year’s boots and coats perhaps to find that you forgot what state you left them in when winter turned to spring. I went into the boot closet yesterday to revisit my footwear and resurrect my winter shoes and boots. Some were in a sorrier state than others and some I had to do a little mending surgery on them, some were ready to move on. To keep your feet dry and hopefully warm, it’s a good idea to take some time and inspect your winter footwear and look for cracks and holes in leather and rubber boots and shoes.

The best thing to do is of course, take your damaged footwear to a shoe repair shop and have someone else do the work, but it can be very satisfying to do the work yourself. I had to mend a pair of dress boots that have been so frequently worn that my foot tore through the side of one of the boots. I had an idea of what to do but verified it by looking on YouTube. Have a look at this short video that shows how to mend tears in leather and adjust accordingly for your footwear:

Another good video shows how to replace lining in your shoes (but I recommend that you keep the sound off).

Depending on the material your footwear is made of, you might try a leather cleaner and then follow up with a moisturizer which will make your footwear more supple and prevent cracks (note that cleaning products are sometimes called “sandal cleaners” but are made for shoes and boots). Aldo does a cleaner-moisturizer in one if you’d rather not do it twice.

The next thing to do is polish and protect your footwear. Kiwi is a trustworthy polish line that will help cover the scuffs on your boots and shoes. Apart from shoe care products, Kiwi offers some good tips on keeping shoes in good condition.

Since we’re in the wet season now, the next step is to protect your footwear to repel the moisture that can cause damage. The Tana All Protector is a good one. Treat your footwear with a spray every 8 – 10 wears, their website says.

It’s amazing what a good once-over on your seasonal footwear can do for your footwear, your image, and even your self-confidence – some people believe that self-esteem is reflected in the way one keeps one’s shoes, so keep this in mind.

Further reading:

Declare war on salt

A little gift for the winter blahs

The sloshed galosh

White: Physics and snobbery

3 Sep

primary colours make white lightWhen I was in Theatre school studying design, I got a good rounding of other theatrical tasks and took classes in stage management, performance, and sound and lighting. I learned a lot of things during the lighting class and developed an understanding of light and colour as frequency. I also learned how to make white light out primary colours. White is a combination of all light frequencies, so focusing blue, red, and green lights in one spot gives us white light. This experience was the beginning of my fascination with colour. (For more information on light frequency, see this page from NASA.)

White as a reflecting colour

From a light perspective, if we think about light and how it changes throughout the year, it makes sense to wear either reflective or absorbing colour depending on what season it is. In the spring and summer, there is bright, warm light and it makes sense for us to reflect light away from us which keeps us a bit cooler, while in the fall and winter, we have cool and limited light that we want to absorb to keep the heat in, so we wear darker colours. (A psychological link seems to exist as well, as we mimic the natural world.)

White is sleek, clean, and classic; we can all envision basic white but there are many, many whites, some cool, some warm,  some with coloured undertones. If you’ve ever looked at paint chips to decide on a room colour, you may have been surprised to see just how varied white can be.

types of white

Believe it or not, these are all considered white. Notice the variations between colours. From Benjamin Moore’s 2015 white collection.

White, along with black and grey, are considered neutrals, and will mix well with other colours of the same level of warmth or coolness. Warm-skinned people will do well in warm – red or yellow-tinted – whites (cream, oatmeal, eggshell white), while cool-skinned types look best in cool – blue or green-tinted – whites (ivory, stone, oyster, silvery white). Notice the subtle differences in cool and warm whites below; you may also see that warm whites advance and cool whites recede slightly:

warm whites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cool whites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White after Labour Day

The Labour Day argument can be a source of confusion for those of us in the Western world. We’re not truly in autumn until the fall equinox which falls the third week of September, so theoretically, we shouldn’t fret about wearing white after Labour Day. This tradition, once fiercely defended, is not longer a sticking point – many of us wear white into the fall which is perfectly acceptable.

The “white season” is an American concept devised by rich white women after the American Civil War. This sartorial snobbery was created to differentiate between the wealthy and the common; people who could afford multiple seasonal wardrobes and those who could not; white was for those who were lucky enough to enjoy resorts, cottaging, and summer holidays between Memorial Day and Labour Day. According to TIME, wearing white after Labour Day was impractical in cooler and rainy fall weather and by that time of year, it was time to return to the more formal attire of city living anyway.

Modern society likes to break old rules, including the not-wearing-white-after-the-September-long-weekend rule. Depending on where you live, September can still be very hot (it certainly is in Toronto) and dark colours wouldn’t be appropriate – hot weather still begs for light colours even at the end of summer. White should still prevail into the fall when the temperatures start to drop and we can get snuggily in deeper, richer whites that lend an air of class and elegance.

Maybe that pompous when-to-wear-white rule does have a basis: white is one of the more elegant colour options no matter what time of year it is, so go ahead and don’t be afraid to indulge in the classic brightness of white.

Declare war on salt!

5 Mar

I’ve had too many pairs of winter boots destroyed by road salt and I’m mad as hell!

salt winter boots

My disgusting, now defunct suede winter boots eaten by salt. Even the zippers are salt-dried. What a waste.

In Ontario, where I currently live, road salt is used so heavily that the streets are white with it and there is fine white salt powder on everything. Salt is a highly corrosive mineral that leaves a mark on not only our footwear, but damages nature, metals, and building materials.

Catherine Houska, metallurgical engineer, says that despite environmental concerns, salt for de-icing changes the chemistry of soil, is harmful to plants, trees, and fish, and it’s use continues to grow–even “sunbelt” cities now stock salt for freezing rain.

After reading Houska’s Deicing Salt: Recognizing the Corrosion Threat, I realize just how damaging and far-reaching salt pollution is. “Deicing salt poses a significant but often unrecognized corrosion threat to architectural metals and other construction materials,” Houska writes. “Seasonal deicing salt accumulations have been documented up to 1.9 km from busy roadways and as high as the 59th floor of a high-rise building.”

Overuse of road salt in Ontario wreaks havoc on land and crops that we need to eat. In a recent legal case in Ontario, farmers sued the local government for losses on their crops due to the use of road salt and won. With any luck, this case will set a precedent and the use of corrosive de-icing salts and the destructive effects on land and vegetation will be examined and changes made, possibly moving us to a non-corrosive grit for winter traction like sand, used in places like Saskatchewan and in Russia.

Salt’s corrosive nature can eat its way through even the thickest treated leathers. This winter, I watched my once-waterproof suede boots destroyed by road salt to the degree that water seeped into the outside of the boot and left my feet wet, plus, they look so awful that I am embarrassed to wear them, despite spraying with protective footwear products and regular cleanings with water and vinegar to neutralize salt’s corrosive effects. The salt literally ate through the suede and dried out the zipper so much that they are useless now. So what do I do with them? Thousands of boots and shoes have been rendered useless after being eaten by salt, and most of these will find themselves in landfills, adding to our polluted world. There must be an alternative.

The switch to synthetics

Though I’m not a fan of synthetics, once my suede boots went down, I decided that I will not throw any more money away on leather or suede (to be honest, I’ve decided not to wear leather anything anymore because of the animal cruelty and environmental pollution involved in the leather-tanning process). I’ve ordered waterproof synthetic boots that salt should brush off of. I reckon that this will prevent a volume of winter boots from going into the landfill because the salt will not corrode this particular material, and the boots will have a longer life, create less waste, and reduce the demand for more boots.

I’ve written before about the downfall of rubber boots in the Huffington Post that are now so cheaply made that they crack after one season’s wear and quickly fill the dump with spent boots. I am a huge supporter of investing in good footwear that is environmentally responsible and that one can maintain with visits to shoe repair shops to stretch the boot’s life. A Canadian company that makes good waterproof boots is Kamik. Kamik boots are recyclable and made of vulcanized rubber (the process in which rubber is heated to a high temperature which binds unstable rubber polymer chains and makes them strong, elastic, and waterproof, as opposed to cheap PVC which easily cracks and is quickly tossed). Even better, some Kamik boot styles are available at your local Canadian Tire store!

What I really like about Kamik boots is that they are serious about sustainabilty. They make boot liners and linings from recycled water bottles; soles are 100% recyclable, and they create “innovative materials like Ecologic Rubber.” Not only does Kamik use recycled products in their footwear, they also offer a recycling program on some styles: Our shoes last a really long time, but when you’ve worn them into the ground, keep them from getting buried in it by sending them back to us. Brilliant.

Style

Now, many of Kamik’s boots for men are for the outdoors and outdoor activites like farming and winter sport, but what about urban men who wear suits to work? The answer is the coloruful, modern-day Norwegian-designed golash, SWIMS. SWIMS can come in the form of an overshoe or overboot, a stylish alternative to salt-eaten shoes and heavy winter boots. SWIMS has collaborated with the likes of Armani and bootmaker, John Lobb, to bring protective footwear into the stylish spotlight. These products use a type of insulated, tear-resistant rubber to protect your shoes from the ravages of winter moisture. However, I cannot see anything linking sustainability to this company, and that’s unfortunate.

Since most of us do not make governmental decisions about road safety and cannot reduce the use of salt used on roads (though we can contact our local politicians to make our voices heard), our alternative is to choose winter footwear that will last longer than permeable materials like leather, and take them to the shoe maker for repair when needed. Our saving grace would be to wear footwear that we could throw in the blue bin when we’re finished with them, eliminating waste and continuously re-using the boot materials.

There are beginnings of this but nothing is full-blown yet: there are shoe recycling spots (mostly in the U.S. where 300 million pairs of shoes go to landfills each year), Nike has a U.S.-based running shoe recycling program, and we’re stating to see small companies develop recyclable shoes. Excellent steps forward, but for us Canadians, we need responsible, recyclable, waterproof boots.

Anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to shop in between seasons

24 Jul

Before I take a holiday from writing  in August, I thought I’d share some information with you, dear readers, to make your life easier.clearance sale

I shopped with a client yesterday who had a limited budget and wanted specific pieces now, at the end of the summer season but before the fall stock has arrived. A challenging shop? Oh yes! Even as an image consultant who shops with clients all the time, I still find it difficult to create a wardrobe out of  sparse bits of end-of-season stock. If it’s tough for me, it’s probably rough on you, so here’s some help.

If you’re not doing this already, start shopping smart and think practically and consider your whole wardrobe  and how your new pieces will integrate into it. Summer sales are awesome and everyone loves a bargain, but even a deep discount isn’t worth it if you’re not that crazy about the colour or if the garment doesn’t fit well, because you won’t wear it.

The guidelines below apply to the fall/winiter end-of-season sales for January – March too:

Yay! Summer sales!

  •  As the summer continues, the discounts increase and the more pieces you can buy!
  • Stock up on summer staple items like  t-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, etc.
  • Even if you don’t get to wear them much this year, end-of-season garments can be stashed until next year; opening a box of last year’s “new” seasonal clothes  will excite you like a child at Christmas.

#$%*@! Summer sales!

  • Finding your size in that excellent shirt at 60% off is a myth in July unless you’re an odd size. Everything is picked over by then.
  • If you happen to find a shirt that fits you at 60% off , just hope you’ve got something in your closet that you can wear it with. Sometimes it’s best to walk away if you’re in doubt.
  • “Well,” you think, “it’s two sizes too big but it’s 75% off, and you can’t really go wrong at that price.” Actually, you can. Just because a garment is inexpensive doesn’t mean that you should buy it actually wear it. If you’re a man reading this post, you just might be concerned with your image, and an ill-fitting, ill-matched clearance garment won’t do anything to improve yours. Discounted season ends that just aren’t right should be left at the store or worn strictly at the cottage.

Hope that helps! Best wishes until September!