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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.

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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.

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!

The life of the gentleman

10 Dec

The Perfect GentlemanThis is the third and final installment of the gentleman series, starring Zacchary Falconer-Barfield, founder and
1st Gentleman at London’s The Perfect Gentleman, a UK outfit that teaches men to be gentlemen,  one man at a time.

In the first article of the series, we discussed the things that drive men to want to become gentlemen: to dress smart, feel good, climb the social ladder, and make more money. The second piece focused on women and romance and found that women respond very well to true gentlemen. Knowing that manners, kindness, politeness, and grace are central to the gentleman, and understanding that largely, the world lacks this type of man, I asked Zach some questions about what it’s like to operate in the world as a gentleman – the topic of this final piece.

I know that well-dressed people – not just men – have a much different experience in life than those who do not pay attention to their clothing. For example, there was a time when people used to dress up to travel. If any of you readers have been in an airport lately, you may have noticed that very few people dress to travel anymore and airline line-ups are made up of extremely casual, almost pajama-clad travellers. But what would happen if a flier chose to dress up for his next trip? I remember my Irish grandfather insisted on dressing in a suit every time he flew back to Dublin, and a man I used to know told me that on a trip to Europe, he put on a suit, tie, and pocket square, and was chosen to upgrade to first class.

This should not come as a surprise. In this Daily Mail article about how to be the lucky flier who is chosen to upgrade, the way to success is through your dress: “Airlines want first and business class to look a league above, so make sure you do too… tracksuits and torn jeans certainly won’t further your cause.”

Gentlemen, as a rule, should do better in life. Zacchary cites other perks besides upgrades for true gents: free meals, compliments, and positive comments “all the time”, never mind the attention from women and the respect that comes with gentlemanly ways. Let’s see how else a gent fares in life as Zach answers my last round of interview questions:

LM: Are gentlemen timeless?

ZFB: Yes, absolutely. The core principles of the gentleman are respect, chivalry, and gentility. There is a 1000 year history of the English gentlemen, and a 4000 year history of Chinese gentlemen – the warrior poet, the philosopher warrior.

LM: Is a gentleman taken more seriously?

ZFB: Yes and no. In business and romance, yes, but not for guys who feel threatened by it. Some men have a fear of being less than, and they get defensive around gentlemen.

LM: How do gentlemen make the world a better place?

ZFB: If everyone treated the world, others, and themselves with respect, by golly, the world would be a better place! Part of being a gentleman is about being selfless. People should think about their actions and the repercussions that follow.

LM: Are politicians gentlemen?

ZFB: In the modern political world, it’s very difficult to be a gentleman. A politician has to do so many ungentlemanly things – there is no reason that politicians need to insult each other, there is a high level of selfishness, and they are not as authentic as they should be – there are so many factors that would not make them a gentleman. Modern politicians aren’t gentlemen because the politics of politics and the business of politics is not gentlemanly. If it was, they’d actually think about things. No politician has ever made our gentleman of the year.

Click here for tickets for the Becoming the Perfect Gentleman in Toronto March 5 – 6 2016.

*Happy holidays to all – writing resumes in January!

Nice guys finish last… or do they?

17 Sep

nice guys finish lastNice guys finish last. There is some debate over how this quote came to be, but there is no doubt that it came from a cranky New York Dodgers manager, Leo “The Lip” Durocher (Durocher was famous for arguing with umpires). During the summer of 1946, Durocher`s response to sports reporter, Red Barber`s question, Why don`t you be a nice guy for a change? prompted an answer that would coin the famous line:

“Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott [NY Giants coach] ? Or any of the other Giants? Why, they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place! Nice guys! I’m not a nice guy – and I’m in first place.” 

That fall in the Baseball Digest, Durocher’s quote about nice guys in seventh place was boiled down to last place, and the phrase was born.

So it’s that idea of Durocher’s that nice guys perhaps aren’t tough enough to win pennants or to be in first place that has captured our imaginations and damned nice guys to be unworthy, spineless, second-rate wimps. But is it really true, or have nice guys just given up and accepted the assumption that they’re unworthy, spineless, second-rate wimps?

Nice guys: It’s all about perception

I had the opportunity to speak with First Gentleman, Zacchary Falconer-Barfield, at The Perfect Gentleman in London recently and I asked him if gentlemen, the considerate, polite, chivalric types, have more luck with women. He said that the idea of women being attracted to bad boys is short-term and the appeal of the bad boy disappears quickly. These gentlemen, these nice guys, have a lingering effect and are the ones women want to marry or have long-term relationships with.

Psychology Today article speaks to this. In Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last? Theresa DiDonato says that “until a woman is interested in establishing a steady partnership, she may sacrifice niceness for other desirable attributes”. She goes on to suggest that for short-term partners, women may choose attractiveness over kindness, but for long-term relationships, kindness and warmth will have more importance.

“Men confuse “nice” with “weak” and this is the problem,” Falconer-Barfield says, “Being nice is being polite and respectful; someone willing to compromise. Being weak is lacking in self-confidence, but this is a temporary state of being, and it’s all in your head.”

I’m always thinking about the social prejudices that men live with and from what I can tell, the idea of masculine weakness is associated with the feminine and to be thought of as feminine is a cardinal sin in the world of men (though I’ve never been able to understand why). That pressure to be strong, to be the man’s man, to be the best, to seize the booty is the patriarchal expectation of males and it’s that kind of pressure that seems to sort out the men from the boys, or if you like, the jerks from the nice guys. But this expectation only exists if you say it does; if you don’t, you’re free to be who you want to be.

Who really finishes last?
boring guys finish last

While looking for graphics for this post, I found a meme that really spoke to me: Nice guys don’t finish last, boring guys do.

Nice is always better than nasty, and nice doesn’t have to mean boring. One can be nice and bold, or nice and adventurous, or nice with a sense of humour. Nice guys can have some edge to them, just like bad boys, but they’re probably more present and attentive. Interesting individual characteristics blend well with “nice”, so don’t be afraid to be yourself.

If I created another meme for this post, it would be Nice guys don’t finish last, guys that try too hard do. There are nice guys out there who have the best intentions but cater too much to other people and invariably cast their own needs aside in order to please others. (Here there is a hint of co-dependency here, but that is another topic.) Then there are the nice guys who don`t know how to say no and can easily be taken advantage of by those looking out for their own gain. Nice guys like this run the risk of turning into doormats, and honestly, people don`t respect doormats; they wipe their feet on them.

Scientific experiments discussed in this short video about nice guys finishing first explains that “[f]rom an evolutionary perspective, animals which contain genes that promote nice behaviour are likely to have more offspring. It’s the basic underlying code for altruistic behaviour – you help me and I’ll help you. And ultimately, we’ll all do better! So while some mean, cut-throat, or envious people may temporarily exploit and gain from others, in the long run, not only nice guys, but nice people, really do finish first.”

————

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.

Damn dirty glasses and how to keep them clean

16 Apr

dirty eye glassesOne day I was driving with a friend who wore his fancy new Coach sunglasses. I didn’t notice the greasy fingerprint on the lower third of the right lens until he turned his head towards me. I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter how expensive your sunglasses are; dirty lenses cancel out any effort to try to look cool.

I remember as a kid, I always wanted to wear eye glasses but never needed to; now that I need them, I find I have mixed feelings towards them. I got my very first pair of eye glasses less than a year ago because I need them to read and see fine detail, so I appreciate them because they help me see. At the same time, because I only need glasses to read, I find myself taking them off and on a lot during the day and this makes them dirty, and therefore something of a pain in the ass.

I checked in with some friends who regularly wear glasses to see how they fare with keeping their glasses clean. Turns out that all of them complain about dirty glasses. From their comments, I’ve learned that I’m not alone – my friends say that their glasses get dirty depending on what they’re doing: some say that bad weather makes eye glasses dirty, housework makes them dirty, gardening makes them dirty, and cooking makes them dirty; others say perspiration and wearing moisturizer makes them dirty. Some people say that the types of coatings (i.e. anti-glare) we choose for our lenses attracts dirt and oil, others say that lenses made of plastic are more prone to smudges than glass lenses. I’ve also heard that plastic frames sit closer to the face and will get greasier from skin oils than metal frames which sit further away from the face.

Whatever the case, eyeglasses get dirty, and when you can’t see through them, you’re somewhat handicapped AND they look awful.

What can we do?

In a Wall Street Journal article, Teri Geist, chairwoman for the American Optometric Association, says, “The best way to clean your glasses is to run them under warm water and put a tiny drop of dish washing detergent on the tip of your fingers to create a lather on the lens. Then rinse with warm water, and dry with a clean, soft cotton cloth.” I tried this last night and it seems to work, but a word of caution: I’ve witnessed a friend with fancy new eye glasses with all of the coating options wash his glasses with soap and water, and over time, the coatings began to peel away, leaving cloudy and irreparable lenses.

Dr. Geist warns that “Lenses typically have some form of protective coating and should never come into contact with ammonia, bleach, vinegar or window cleaner. Those chemicals can break down the coating or just strip them”. This is where spray lens cleaners come in. I understand that there are different types for different coatings, so use the correct spray for your specific lens coatings. For a DIY option, instructables.com suggests a simple 60% isopropyl alcohol/40% water solution used in a spray bottle instead of commercial lens cleaners. Try one of these methods instead of breathing on your lenses and wiping with your shirt tails, paper towels, or Kleenex, which can scratch your lenses because the fibers are not necessarily smooth and can leave debris behind.

Microfiber cleaning cloths

Much of what I’ve read raves about microfiber cleaning cloths that keep glasses smudge-free. Microfiber fabric is a very fine synthetic textile that is so dense, it won’t leave streaks. Good ones will last for years. But the cheap ones will wreak havoc on your specs and undoubtedly drive you mad.

Did I ever tell you the story of my microfiber dish rag? It worked wonderfully at first, then I started to notice that no matter how much soap I used in the sink, the dishes had an oily film on them. I couldn’t figure out why until I examined my dish cleaning tools and noticed that the microfiber cloth also felt greasy, and I decided that the cheap synthetic was decomposing and returning to its former state: oil.

I have microfiber lens cloths that seem to do the same thing. Microfiber is made of petrochemicals and not biodegradable. The David Suzuki Foundation sees pros and cons to this textile. These cloths lift dirt and grease from surfaces but “are made from a non-renewable resource and do not biodegrade. And only those made from polypropylene are recyclable,” the site says. One good thing about microfiber cloths is that they eliminate the need for wasteful paper towels and napkins, etc., and can be washed in the machine in cool water (avoid fabric softener which will leave a film on your lenses), and I recommend to air dry them instead of putting them in the dryer. Watch this how-to short video by an optometrist for more information.

Pieces of cotton can work just as well though there may be more dust due to loose cotton fibers in the fabric, which would not be present in microfiber. I just experimented with a thin silk scarf and it worked wonderfully! No streaks and no debris left behind.

TIP: Through your cleaning cloth, lightly use your fingernail to get into the edges of your lenses between the frame – dust seems to collect in these crevices.

Wearing cool eye glasses or sun glasses can instantly update your look, but with style comes a cost. I completely understand that keeping one’s glasses clean is a nagging daily job and there is no permanent solution, so it is a cross we with bad eyesight must bear.

As an image consultant, I can say that from an objective viewpoint, dirty glasses don’t say good things about us, but now that I wear glasses and I know how quickly they dirty,  I completely empathize and understand the misguided criticism of dirty eye glasses because they’re nearly impossible to keep clean! It seems that I could continuously clean my glasses all day and they’d still get smudged, but I make the effort because looking good is one thing, but being able to see is priceless.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Human behaviour, Desmond Morris, and his comb-over

25 Dec
Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris sports a deep comb-over.

Desmond Morris, the famous British zoologist who wrote The Naked Ape, put together a six-part BBC series called The Human Animal: A Personal View of the Human Species during the mid 1990s, in an attempt to examine and explain human behaviour.

During the series, he explores humans as “hunting apes”, looks at our body language, genetics, and tackles the differences of the sexes. During part 6, Beyond Survival, Dr. Morris, the brilliant zoologist that has moved the study of body language further ahead than anyone else in history, says, “Every time we go out in public, we’re making complex statements about ourselves”. Dr. Morris is absolutely right, but his statement reeks of irony because he talks about complex visual statements while wearing a wicked comb-over.

Method

Comb-overs, a ridiculous “style” that balding men create to cover their baldness was extremely popular during the 1970s, as I recall from childhood. The comb-over was so big that it was actually patented in 1977. The patent is officially 37 years old as of December 23, 2014, and was the brain-child of smooth-headed father and son team, Donald and Frank Smith. Below is the U.S. patent. Click on it to read the details about the Smith’s “invention”.

Comb-Over patent

comb-over illustrationThe patent info explains the correct way of covering your bald spot by “cross-hatching” (FIG. 6) three sections of longer hair and combing them over one another. Original illustration at right–it’s a dandy, isn’t it?

Instructions: “To begin with the subject’s hair must be allowed to grow long enough to cover the bald area, generally about 3 to 4 inches. Of course, the length of the hair will depend on the size of the bald area, for example, a person who is front to back bald, as in the illustrations of FIGS. 1, 2 and 3, will require more length than a person with a bald spot either in front or in back of the head. In addition, the particular hair style to be performed will dictate the required hair length.”

Can you imagine losing your hair and thinking that the best thing to do is to grow sections of your existing hair quite long, strategically comb it up to cover over your bald head, then paste it to your scalp or on top of existing strands with some sort of adhesive (probably hair spray) in an attempt to fool others into thinking that you still have your full head of hair? Only the wind could betray your clever ruse! It’s genius!

Just kidding.

Comb-over symbolism

“Wearing a comb-over is like sweeping your baldness under the rug; it’s still there,” says Jason Kearns of Toronto’s Kearns & Co. hair design.

Kearns began his professional life in the late 60s in swinging London, when hair, and everything else, was all about fun and free expression. He watched the music stars of the time mature and change–some of their hair left the building before they did, and grace didn’t necessarily follow. He says of an aging rock star like Robert Plant, “If the hair is long and you’ve got all of it, wear it.” Guys like David Crosby or Max Webster-era Kim Mitchell who have lost it all on top but keep the bottom long? “Cut it.”

Clumsy, fragile comb-overs are an attempt to camouflage or hide something; they may even induce suspicion. It was no surprise to hear Mr. Kearns say that men who do comb-overs have no sense of self and are probably clinging to their youth. I imagine it could be quite upsetting, even devastating for a man to lose his hair; it may be seen as the loss of youth and possibly a loss of strength, and therefore a blow to masculine identity (could all men have a Sampson complex?). But this belief is a choice.

Bald and bald alternatives

Perhaps it was the unforgettable Yul Brynner who made bald okay for the first time in the 20th century. Biography UK describes how Brynner’s bald head became his trademark: Yul Brynner

“For his role as the King of Siam [in the 1956 Academy Award-winning The King And I], Brynner shaved his head and following the success of the film, he continued to shave his head throughout his life but wore wigs for certain roles. This was an unusual and striking look for the time and became known as the Yul Brynner Look.”

While Brynner wasn’t bald, he was balding. Below left is a shot of the intense, Russian-born actor with a receding hairline; at right below, with a hair piece in his second bald role as Pharoah in The Ten Commandments. To my eye, he’s much more striking without hair.

Yul Brynner

Yul Brynner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the 50s moved into the 60s and 70s, a fully bald head was still scary to people, but someone came up to the plate and made baldness sexy. Telly Savalas rocked the bald head in the early 1970s in his hit TV show, Kojak. Unlike Brynner, Savalas didn’t shave his head for any particular role–his hair loss was well under way, as seen at left in a screen shot from season two of The Untouchables (1961), when Savalas still had some hair. Compare that to the second shot at rightwhich is one attractive than the other?

Telly Savalis

Telly Savalas in an early episode of The Untouchables.

Telly Savalas

Savalas as bald-headed NYPD Detective, Theo Kojak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So why did bald work for these two when so many other men at the time chose the comb-over? First, they’re both actors, and they’re already confident (I have read in my travels that actors and football players have the highest testosterone counts of all occupations). Second, once they took to the look, they “owned” their baldness and made it work for them. Third, they have good shaped heads that are in proportion to their bodies–this is important.

Shaving one’s head is definitely an alternative if a guy is losing his hair, but shaving your head bald isn’t for everyone. Why? Proportion. I have a small head and I notice that when I put my hair into a tight ponytail, my head looks smaller, and I look out of proportion. Men with small heads who intend to shave their lids should take heed of this; I often see (usually white) men walking around with tiny shaved heads perched above hunched shoulders, their expression embarrassed and apologetic. Just because you’re losing your hair doesn’t mean that you have to shave right down to the wood, fellas; instead leave a 1/8″ or 1/4″ of stubble to break up the visual expanse of skin, and avoid large collars and scarves that can make your head look even smaller.

Probably the most important thing around hair loss is acceptance. I discussed ways to deal with hair loss in my last post, but ultimately gentlemen, it’s all about embracing and making the best of yourself, not making an awkward attempt to hide what is gone and in the past. Jason Kearns says that baldness is a way for modern men to make their lives simple and to deal with hair loss with grace. He offers other alternatives to comb-overs and bald insecurity: “Instead of hiding your bare pate,” he says, “try to work with it and add accessories like interesting eye glasses or a neatly trimmed beard.”Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris said in the Daily Mail  in 2008 that the key to a long life is calmness. If you want a happy and long life, it’s best to relax about things you have no control over, including whether or not your hair will hold out. Don your look with grace, avoid the comb-over, and for goodness’ sake, have a sense of humour about it; it’s not the end of the world.

For a laugh, read this Cracked article: Inside the Mind of a Man With a Comb-Over.

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!

Paisley: full of possibilities

10 Jul

red paisley

Take a moment to look at this picture. Do you notice the incredible detail? The harmonized colours? The pleasant but erratic pattern? You’re looking at paisley, one of the most gorgeous decorative patterns humans have ever devised.

Paisley is an incredible pattern to work with because it is so full of possibilities: paisley can be done in any scale, it may be multi-coloured or monochrome, simple or intricate, and the pattern may be regular and repeating or varied, irregular, and seemingly random. This wonderful, natural design has deep, rich roots that date back to ancient Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (modern-day Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Syria), where it found its way into building decoration, carpets, fabrics, and the decorative arts of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Sumerians.

This nature-inspired pattern, originally known as botteh or boteh in its native Persian, means “bush, shrub, a thicket, bramble, [or] herb. Some would even take it to mean a palm leaf, cluster of leaves…and flower bud,” according to the Heritage Institute discussing Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion and philosophy.

The boteh pattern is a much-loved, time-tested pattern that eventually made its way into India where it really dug in its heels. For hundreds of years, beautiful cashmere wool shawls decorated with the boteh pattern were popular, and during the 1700s, boteh shawls cast a spell on European women who fell in love with the soft, warm, patterned fabric. During the colonial period, British men returning home from India brought the shawls as gifts for their women, and the demand for these exotic shawls grew in Europe. Seeing an opportunity, the British East India Company began to export the enormously popular and expensive shawls to Europe during the later 18th century.

As the shawls became more fashionable, the demand for them grew, but the high cost kept many away until European hand weavers began to copy the boteh patterned shawls and produced items at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. In 1805, the weaving mill in Paisley, Scotland became the boteh weaving centre of Europe, and the name Paisley became synonymous with the pattern. As weaving technology evolved in the UK, the original 2-colour paisley shawls turned into 5-colour patterns, though this still paled in comparison to the Indian versions that boasted up to 15 colours.

What is paisley?

The paisley pattern can range from very simple to extremely ornate, sometimes positioned loosely among leaves, or flowers, other times simple in regular and repeating patterns. The common denominator is the tell-tale curved teardrop shapes. It is the shape of the paisleys that I find particularly interesting because no one really knows what it’s supposed to represent, though there are many options and theories.

Paisleys could signify halved fresh figs, mangoes, gourds, licks of flame, or Cypress trees (sacred to the Zoroastrians); kidneys, tadpoles, tear drops, pears, or sperm if you’re Freudian.  (During research, I came across a Jehovah Witness message board that discussed paisley as a representation of sperm and therefore considered “taboo”). In any case, paisley seems to have originated as a fertility symbol and becomes more fantastic as it evolves.

Modernized examples of this racy design seen below by Paul Frederick show the incredible variance in paisley patterns, from bold and multi-coloured paisley to quiet tone-on-tone, and from elaborate designs to simple shapes (photos used with permission):

Blue paisley Paul Frederick tie

Tone-on-tone paisley Paul Frederick tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Frederick paisley tie

Paul Fredrick blue paisley tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paisley in menswear

While the paisley motif was woven into fabrics most often worn by women, western men were left out of experiencing this gorgeous pattern until the 1920s-1930s, when paisley was printed on silk and used in men’s ties.

“In response to changing fashion,” says Francois Chaille in  The Book of Ties, “Paisley is constantly being up-dated: hundreds of new paisley motifs make their appearance on ties every year. The motif provides rich opportunities for coloristic nuance and formal invention.”

Of course we in the west remember paisley worn extensively in the 1960s and revived in the 80s, but paisley has never really gone away. In fact, you may find a paisley tie in your collection, or maybe a paisley bandana or neckerchief (Cary Grant liked to wear these under his collars). If you’re lucky, you may have a Ralph Lauren paisley pocket silk for your breast pocket.  Stylish introverts could opt for a pair of low-key paisley socks, and daring darlings may rock paisley Ted Baker shirts or a cool sports jacket with a chic paisley lining.

Paisley isn’t just for clothing. The high-end Italian design house, Etro, likes to incorporate paisley into its collections, and offers paisley luggage, day books, wallets, and manbags in their iconic paisley “comprised of red, turquoise, yellow, olive green and ivory adapted and evolved to become the signature pattern for the brand: an instantly recognisable style which became inevitably synonymous with the luxury world of Etro,” their website says.

If wearing paisley is luxurious, it is also refined. New York image consultant, John Molloy, said paisley ties signify good breeding and education. Alan Flusser, author of Dressing the Man says, “Of all the loud neckties, [Molloy] deemed paisley as the only permissible one because it was the “fun tie” of the upper middle classes.”

I implore you to pull out your whimsical paisley and wear it with confidence; it is so beautiful and varied in pattern, colour, and scale, that everyone will be able to find the right paisley print for them. It is a pattern that speaks of human history, elegance, and refinement; it is a delightful and permanently stylish pattern, and an excellent investment for any gentleman’s image.