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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.

 

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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.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethical man = sexy man!

20 Mar

By this point, we’re all well aware that we have to manage manufactured goods by recycling, reusing, and repurposing, because the earth won’t get healthier if we continue to create new stuff out of raw materials and toss them into a landfill when we’re done.

The movement to creatively and stylishly reuse existing materials and objects is in full swing and I’ve seen some super cool ways to reuse stuff: got an old ladder? Mount it on a wall to make a book shelf! Make lamps and other cool stuff out of cassette tapes, and for die-hard sports fans in possession of old soccer or basketballs, make a hat! (Check out this blog: 25 Interesting DIY ideas to reuse old things.)

As an image consultant, I like to offer eco-friendly alternatives to my clients and for this post, I’ve found some super stylish accessory pieces for the eco-conscious gent.

Men’s environmentally conscious accessories

Mod wallet by Couch

Couch Mod arrow wallet available at Nice Shoes.ca. Image used with permission.

One of the cooler Canadian eco-conscious and cruelty-free businesses is Nice Shoes, which sells much more than nice shoes. Nice Shoes sells an obvious array of footwear plus great bags, belts, and wallets at their Vancouver shop and online store.

Shown here is the Couch Mod wallet. Couch makes cruelty-free vinyl wallets out of material leftover from their guitar straps (see below). Wallets have lots of room to hold 12 plastic cards and a bill fold for cash.

Repurposed vinyl pieces are strong, durable, easy-to-clean, and vegan/cruelty-free, and I recommend them if you want an inexpensive, ethical long-term investment: I’ve had a vegan bag for several years and it hardly looks worn.

Nice Shoes carries different men’s, women’s, and unisex lines. Below is a fine brown satchel by Matt and Nat, a great overnight bag for the discerning eco-conscious man:

Jack satchel

“Jack” by Matt and Nat, available at niceshoes.ca. Image used with permission.

Vintage car-conscious

Can you think of anything cooler than using the vinyl interior of an early 1970s Volkswagen Beetle to make a guitar strap? Neither can I. Couch, out of Signal Hill, California, does guitar and camera straps from vintage vinyl and repurposed seat belts along with other cool gear.

Couch vintage Volkswagon guitar strap

Couch vintage Volkswagen upholstery guitar strap. Image used with permission.

Being a vegan myself, I like what Couch stands for:

…when it came to making guitar straps, we were not into purchasing the actual hides of leather and then stamping the tabs out of asymmetric sides of beef before sewing them on our straps. The buying and selling of animal skin carcasses was a little too weird for us, thanks.

Couch also makes excellent, hard-wearing, gear for men like wallets, belts, and shaving bags. The toiletry bag below is made of vinyl upholstery originally intended to cover the interior of late 60s/early 70s Pontiac GTOs. This houndstooth model has a metal zipper and is lined with waxed canvas to keep your stuff dry when you splash around the sink.

GTO shaving bag

The houndstooth upholstery of the Pontiac GTO makes for a cool shaving bag. Image used with permission.

In the end, gents, you’re responsible for your actions and the products you use. Like men who volunteer, support animal rights, walk a mile in heels as a gesture to end violence against women, or get involved with anti-bullying campaigns, impassioned, eco-minded men are attractive and in demand. More than that, guys who use repurposed goods out of an eco-conscience are not just good for the future of our planet, dang! they’re downright sexy!

The spawn of Savile Row

23 Jan

It’s the third and final instalment of our Savile Row series, where we’ll get better acquainted with the men that have moved Savile Row style into the 21st century.

In its 200 year history, Savile Row has experienced three major changes: the elegance of proper and formal dress for the first 150 years or so, the reinvention of the Savile Row workmanship woven into the modern style of the Swinging Sixties, and into the new bespoke movement of the 1990s and into the future.

Remember Tommy Nutter, the maverick tailor of 60s London, and his cutter, Edward Sexton who dressed the Beatles and other dandies of the period? These two gents bent the hard rules of Savile Row set during the late 19th century and turned fine tailoring into “the male peacock revolution of the Sixties” (read more from Nutter’s obituary).

Both Nutter and Sexton are the roots of modern bespoke, and their guidance and influence is rampant in modern bespoke and design.

Sexton is Paul McCartney’s tailor and according to the Savile Row Style Magazine, McCartney’s daughter Stella trained under Sexton, “serving an apprenticeship that stood her in good stead when she went on to found her own design business.” Sexton continues to design for men and women like musicians, Annie Lennox and Pete Doherty; models, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell, and designed costumes for Bill Nighy and Reece Ifans in The Boat That Rocked (recommended watching about a pirate radio in 60s England), among many others.

Tommy Nutter died in 1992, but his legacy has been transferred to two of the three “New Generation” designers: Ozwald Boateng, a self-taught tailor “inspired and guided by Tommy Nutter [who has] carried on his mentor’s legacy of introducing Savile Row to a new Generation,” and Timothy Everest, a one-time Nutter apprentice who blends “impeccable craftsmanship with individualism”. (Source.)

Savile Row’s New Generation

Ozwald Boateng is serious about style based on personality and emotions–“soul, spirit, energy, that’s what it’s about,” he says in a 2009 short film, Why Style Matters.  As a teenager, Georgio Armani inspired Boateng to want to become a superstar of international design, and he has certainly reached his goal. Boateng has designed suits for US president, Barack Obama, and the likes of Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, Spike Lee, John Hurt, and Sir Richard Branson. He has injected into the tradition of Savile Row, bright, exciting colours, and indeed, his shop at 30 Savile Row pops with colour–he says his shirts look more like jewels. 

To Boateng, suits represent respectability, and he uses the time-honoured ways of Savile Row and its traditional fabrics in his unconventional cuts and colours to make modern, stylish, and individual clothes because as he says, “Style is a journey, it is an extension of who you are and your character”.

Unless he’s doing  commissioned bespoke, Welshman and MBE, Timothy Everest, though not as fearless as Boateng when it comes to colour, celebrates the modernization of Savile Row’s tradition of craftsmanship. “The perceptions of tailoring were old-fashioned, long-winded, boring, expensive, and elitist,” Everest explains, “So we had to turn these things around to be relevant.” 

On his website, Everest explains his sartorial evolution: “It was the early 90s and everyone had gone through the whole “designer” and “brand” thing,” he says. “I felt like I could introduce a new generation to the joys of handmade clothing–investment pieces that stood out and were built to last.”

Everest’s career is incredible–he collaborated with Marks & Spencer to create off-field uniforms for England’s football team for the 2008 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, was the Group Creative Director for Daks, acts as M&S’s Creative Consultant overseeing the Autograph, Sartorial, and Luxury tailoring collections, and designed the uniforms for the Virgin Racing team, among many other varied projects.

Teaming up with British fashion design company, Superdry, Everest did the unthinkable and created a modern clothing collection based in traditional British tailoring. The Superdry line offers a “trans-seasonal” collection of casual coordinating separates in razor-sharp skinny suits in fine fabrics and much attention to detail.

At #29 Savile Row is the shop of Richard James, whose business philosophy is to “produce classic clothing of unsurpassable quality, but to push the boundaries through design, colour and cut.”

According to UK GQ, “James ruffled feathers by maintaining traditional suit-making techniques (using English mills like Fox Brothers & Co, reflecting his commitment to craftsmanship) yet at the same time sweeping aside tradition where necessary (by reflecting the catwalks and having the audacity to open on weekends).”

James designs for the rock and roll elite like Mick Jagger, Mick Ronson, and the Gallagher brothers when Oasis was at its peak but before Liam started his Pretty Green line. James is responsible for Elton John’s stage costumes for his Vegas shows too.

Richard James and I share a love of fabrics and textures and we also agree that black is not the wonderful colour that people think it is: “I don’t like black very much on men,” he says in a Details interview, “It’s not a very flattering colour. A bright navy blue cheers you up. I remember going to see [UK Prime Minister] David Cameron, and he wanted a navy suit. I said, ‘Well, if you have a navy suit on television, it usually looks like a black suit.’ So we made a brighter navy, and he looked fantastic!”

Our feature designers, Boateng, Everest, and James, the spawn of Savile Row, have succeeded in modernizing the deep sartorial traditions of the Row to update younger generations with wearable style, sophistication, and impeccable craftsmanship.

 

Chesterfield!

12 Sep

Chesterfield

Last post was an examination of velvet and its inclusion into fall 2013 men’s collections. I discussed velvet’s history, influence on world economics, usage, and care, explaining the difficulty of keeping velvet in good shape. This post offers an alternative for men who want to include velvet in their wardrobe without the stress and high maintenance of owning a velvet jacket – it’s all in the details, as you shall see.

As we move into fall and cooler temperatures, it is your dress coat that can take on the sumptuousness of velvet. A simple velvet upper collar adds a touch of richness, style, and magnificence. But velvet shouldn’t be added to just any coat – it is a dressy feature best worn on the garment of its origin – the Chesterfield.

This timeless single or double-breasted topcoat is said to have been invented by George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield in the mid 1800s. It is a straight cut coat with no waist seam, a full piece back, side pockets (usually flapped or jetted), and a velvet collar. (For more information on Chesterfield coats, see this excellent resource.)

Chesterfield’s Chesterfield evolved from the Regency Period’s “Tweedside” lounge suit that consisted of a long jacket with a matching waistcoat and trousers, jacket pockets and sleeves decorated with ribbon.

The coat changed to something called a Covert coat during the 1880s, which was popular for riding and/or hunting in the English countryside. The Covert’s cut is similar to the Chesterfield, but with side vents for easy movement, several lines of stitching at the hem, made in specific Covert fabric in earthy tones, perhaps to conceal the rider and have him blend into the natural environment. As with the Chesterfield, the Covert coat featured a velvet collar.

Teddy Boys

Teddy Boy, John aka Rockin' Nidge,  in Manchester.

John aka Rockin’ Nidge pictured next to the Horsforth Hotel near Leeds wearing a blue mohair three piece Drape suit made by the late Peter Smithard of Holbeck, Leeds.

The Chesterfield, now a mainstay in menswear, has taken a few styling turns over the years, lengthening, shortening, and tapering, but the most interesting group to embrace and interpret the coat mixed American rock and roll and Edwardian style to create a very interesting and very British look.

UK site, The Edwardian Teddy Boy, is an excellent resource for Teddy Boy history, done by an original Ted from the Teddy Boy revival of the 1970s (Nidge, shown here). The site author says that in 1953, “the major newspapers reported on the sweeping trend in men’s fashion across Britain,  towards what was termed the New Edwardian look. However the working class Edwardian style had been on the street since at least 1951, because the style had been created on the street by the street and by working class teenagers and not by Saville Row or the fashion designers.”

Teddy Boy Drape Coat

Teddy Boy Drape Coat

Worn with drain pipe trousers, waistcoats, and thick-soled brothel creeper shoes, the Teddy Boys created their own version of the Chesterfield, calling it a Drape coat because of the full cut that allowed the fabric to drape down the back.

The plainness of the coat, like a blank canvas, leaves it open to decoration, and the Drapes often had a traditional Chesterfield velvet collar and notched lapel, but some preferred to have their coats made with a long, shawl (rounded, unnotched) velvet collars. Some Teds got really fancy and added velvet to any bit of the coat they could, including collars, sleeves, and pockets. 

Teddy Boy historian, Eddie Adams, explains Ted culture and the importance of clothing: “I was in a gang called the Moorhouse boys. Our gang philosophy was to have the latest suits… I can remember having a dark blue one with herringbone material. Some people had a bit of velvet on the collar. Suits cost between £30 and £40, they were quite expensive and it used to take about 6 weeks before you got the suit. We used to wear bootlace ties, suede shoes with crepe soles… and quite a lot of hair we used to bring round the back in a DA*.”

*Duck’s Arse, more politely known in North America as the Duck Tail

It’s hard to believe that gangs of these well-dressed, style-conscious working class young men roamed the streets looking for trouble, causing fights, riots, and even murder. According to the Teddy Boy site, “When teenager John Beckley was murdered by a Teddy Boy gang known as the Plough Boys in July 1953 after a fight that started on Clapham Common, the Daily Mirror‘s headline “Flick Knives, Dance Music and Edwardian Suits” linked criminality to clothes.”

Paul Smith Chesterfield coat with velvet collar, fall 2013 collection

Paul Smith Chesterfield coat with velvet collar, fall 2013 collection – click for a closer look

To the doubtless delight of the modern gent, the Chesterfield is no longer synonymous with crime. Our beautiful Chesterfield is a classic in its own right, and will remain with us in some form or another. Recently, while wandering around Holt Renfrew, I was happy to see a beautiful Paul Smith Chesterfield with a velvet collar included in his fall 2013 collection. 

A piece like a velvet-collared topcoat is a keeper for years to come, so think of it as an investment and take care of it. To add a bit of simple but powerful style to an existing topcoat, visit your tailor and ask to have a velvet collar added to your coat, and don’t be afraid of colour to bring out the shimmer of your velvet collar. I mean, if you’re wearing velvet, darling, wear it!

PS – For those interested to learn more about Teddy Boys, have a look at this video, “Here Come The Teds”:

Velvet

29 Aug
16th C Italian velvet

16th Century Italian velvet

With lots of clothing choices for this fall, gents, you’ll be happy to see cloth coats in interesting fabrics for sale, among them, velvet, a textile that has influenced world economics and differentiated social classes.

Velvet, a term that comes from the Latin “vellus” – fleece or tufted hair, can be woven from many textiles, but the first was made of silk. “It is now a general belief [that silk velvet] arrived in Italy for the first time from the Far East, transported by Arab merchants, and was then spread throughout Europe… by the merchants from Lucca, Venice, Florence, and Genoa.” (Source)

Wool and linen were the most common fabrics in Europe but the introduction of silk and other fancy stuffs gave more variety to clothing. During the Middle Ages, men’s clothing was fairly uniform across society, but what divided the classes was fabric. Velvet was such a special textile that sometimes the number of velvet garments was limited and regulated by state and church laws. Silk  velvet created enormous fortunes for bankers and merchants of Italian city states, it clothed armies, and drove a wedge between classes. 

“The enormous Italian output of satins, velvets, taffetas and other silk textiles satisfied the taste for luxury in costume of a considerable class, composed at first of patrician and feudal noble society, then all for the wealthy throughout Europe,” wrote Francois Boucher in 20,000 Years of Fashion.

Velvet Usage

Velvet may not hold paint well, but that didn’t stop artists to paint Elvis on starting in the 70s.

Velvet has been worn for centuries by royalty and the nobility, by operatic stars in Verdi and Rossini works, it is the curtain that has risen in every theatre,  it has adorned modern artists like Liberace and even Rod Stewart who said, “Carrying 200 pounds of velvet and satin around a stage for 90 minutes – that’s man’s work, let me tell you.” Velvet can be made into home furnishings like pillows, drapes, upholstery, and rugs, and velvet has even been used as a painting surface.

Velvet became more common place with textile technologies to be consumed by people of good taste in all economic groups. Original velvets were made of silk, but velvet can be made of virtually any textile, including synthetics. Probably the most common velvet found today is cotton, including all of the wonderful velvet jackets available this fall for men.

Velvet Care

If you already own velvet or if you plan to purchase a velvet garment, think of velvet as the suede of textiles – it is something of a challenge to clean and maintain, so handle it gently.

Velvet is velvet not because of its content, but because of its weave. Velvet is considered a pile weave, similar to corduroys or velveteens, and even the terry cloth that your bath towels are made of. All of these fabrics have looped threads – your towel’s threads are uncut loops, but the pile fabrics like velvet are cut.

There are lots of fancy velvets like Cisele velvet, a fabric woven with cut and uncut loops that form a pattern, Faconne  has velvet patterns woven into a flat base, and Panne is a pressed velvet. Plush velvet, used in upholstery, won’t crush as easily under our weight, but velvet typically used for modern clothing is going to be a soft cotton velvet with longer cut loops (known as “transparent” velvet).

Though velvet is a rich, gorgeous fabric, it should be worn with care. In the modern era, we don’t have the luxury of lolling about on thrones and court couches in our velvets, so we generally wear velvet in the evening when there is less wear and tear. The longer the cut loops, the more susceptible the velvet is to crushing – this is the danger of wearing velvet and why it is usually worn at night when things like heavy laptop cases aren’t slung over the shoulder to ruin the shoulder of your jacket – it is very difficult to raise the pile of the velvet once it has been flattened. More expensive velvets will have crush-proof finishes added to them, but generally, the pieces you find in stores will not be made of a high-end finished fabric, so wear with care.

The best way to care for velvet is to not put any pressure on it, but if it has been crushed, there are a couple of ways to try to resurrect the pile (but there are no guarantees):

  • Hang in a steamy bathroom and brush pile with a soft brush (a soft toothbrush may work if you don’t lean into it – brush lightly to raise the pile);
  • For small areas, lay the fabric face down over the bristles of a clean, flat hairbrush or an unused shoe brush and steam (the trick is to keep the pile “suspended” and not pressing into any surface);
  • Lastly, remember that velvet is dry clean only.

Now that I’ve put the fear into you, wear your velvets in high style but keep a bubble of air around you so as not to damage your pile! 

Fall 2013: New shapes, new challenges

15 Aug
Cruciani Merino wool coloured sweaters

Cruciani merino wool sweaters available at philip

Gents, though menswear changes slowly, this fall sees a real shift in shape and gives us a glimpse of the future – a future rooted in the past.

I walked around three very different stores recently to get a first-hand glimpse at what we’ve got available for options this season:  philip, a locally owned menswear boutique in Toronto,  The Bay, and Holt Renfrew. Get ready for the colour and texture of autumn, severe lines, shorter tops, and a heavy 1980s influence.

Colour, comfort

Philip Zappacosta, owner of philip in Toronto’s Hazelton Lanes, excitedly told me about his fall offerings, emphasizing colour and shape.

“We’re moving away from black,” Philip said, much to my delight, “This season, our focus is on a rich classic palette of burgundy, navy, brown, and grey.”

He showed me lovely merino wool piece-dyed v-neck sweaters in rich colours with new soft fall scarves (shown above). Also available this season are thin-waled stretch corduroys – perfect for movement and extra room if you have a second helping. Philip also carries awesome jackets with practical zip-out linings that are like two jackets in one. 

New designs this season are stylish, soft-shouldered cloth jackets (some quilted!), excellent for warm layering, but a word of caution: these unstructured jackets look best on men who are in good shape and have some chest and shoulder. If your shoulders are narrow or you’re slim, a hard, squared shoulder will work better on you.

Shape changes: not for everyone

Tops, including layering pieces like sweaters and vests, are getting shorter – there’s the 80s influence again (let’s hope it doesn’t get too out of hand in seasons to come – images of Wham! float through my head ). These shorter tops are worn outside of the pant, taking the emphasis off on the belt and the cool buckles you have collected over the past 20 years.

Skinny suits, skinny pants, and skinny ties, demand slim, fashion forward fellows, so thin, stylish, and dare I say, dramatic men will delight to find the ultra slim suits Don Draper brought into our modern consciousness are going to their extreme – the razor-sharp peak lapels on the severely skinny suit by Black Brown 1826 could put out your eye, but is an affordable and stylish suit that any self-respecting Mod could wear with pride – available at The Bay!

Also at The Bay are a plethora of gorgeous velvet jackets – soft, sumptuous, and luxurious cotton velvet sports jackets are all over the place this fall and you’d be lucky to have one. But, some men should be legitimately afraid of this fabric – next post I’ll discuss velvet, its maintenance, and how to avoid damaging this fabric fit for kings.

Trousers in general are becoming extremely tapered, so larger men/men with muscle tone will do well keeping away from these cuts – stick with classic or relaxed fits.

dolce and grabanna

Welcome back to 1985, Dolce and Grabanna

We’ve been in flat front trousers for several years now (hey, even Dockers have jumped on the wagon), but pleats are on their way back. For those of you who have heard me complain about pleats, namely double pleats and full cut trouser legs that make the majority of men look dumpy, I want to say that it’s only a matter of time until the pleat returns – fashion is cyclical and nothing is new, just updated – welcome to the pleat’s new dawn.

I stood somewhat gobsmacked in Holt’s, staring at a mannequin decked out in a Dolce and Grabanna outfit consisting of a round-necked vest (that conjured horrible 1980s International Male catalogue images) and a matching trim cut, single pleated trouser. D&G are heavy into the 80s influence right now and though I mostly shudder at this, I’m glad they had the sense to update the trouser and work the pleat into a trim cut leg – not so bad!

When looking for new clothes in any season, fellas, be honest about your build. Are you large, slim, muscular, overweight,  or short? Average and slight builds can pull off the fall’s extremes, larger men need a more ample clothing cut to breathe, move, and not look like they’re wearing a sausage casing.

Best advice? Slim on slim, relaxed cuts on average to large – proportion, proportion, proportion!

 

Oh, grow up

1 Aug

boy-wearing-dads-clothesAll, or at least most of us at one point in our life, cross the threshold and enter the House of Adulthood where things are a little quieter and little more refined; when we care more about quality than quantity, and where substance is just as important as style.

It’s a strange time, realizing you’ve outgrown your high volume,  fast cars, and tight trousers. My friend Chris posted a Facebook rant about a place he used to frequent and revisited as an adult: “It used to be a great restaurant. Now its like a god damn club. Super loud crappy music, yelling at bartenders for drinks and young skanks getting picked up by greasy steroid bulked dudes. Terrible, just terrible.”

I suppose that being conscious of moving into the Adult House is quite different than just complaining about things being different that what you’re used to. It is the very act of being aware of our adulthood that enables us to embrace it and own it.

Several men have come to me recently, saying they want to look more grown up; they want to stop dressing like brats, ditch the devil-may-care attitude towards their dress, and embrace their adulthood. (It’s a wonderful gift to be asked to help a guy come of sartorial age.)

Take my friend, Patrick, for example. I saw him last week and he excitedly told me about a jacket that he purchased in Montreal. He thought it would help him look more grown up.

“I’m sick of wearing track pants and hoodies,” he said, “I want to look more mature, more my age. I’m coming up to 35, you know.”

He brought out the natural linen jacket with wooden buttons, explaining that he really liked the jacket and got it on sale, but the sleeves were too short and he wasn’t sure how to wear it.

That he chose a linen sports jacket is unto itself a step toward adulthood – as opposed to stretchy, sporty, youthful fabrics, linen is sturdy and sensible, and even a lightly structured linen jacket gives a squared off shoulder and visual maturity. So there’s that.

Normally, wearing a jacket with too-short sleeves is a sartorial sin and looks visually immature, but there were elements working in Patrick’s favour that helped get him around it (one must be practical in times of seasonal sales!). Though the sleeves are not lined and the seams show on the underside, the jacket did have working surgeon’s cuffs (buttons and buttonholes to open the cuff). To hide the too-short sleeve and add a bit of style to the jacket, I opened the cuffs, folded them back, and pushed them up a little – instant fix.

Patrick wore a t-shirt under the jacket, making it fun (we were going to a party), but he could also have worn a collared shirt and folded the cuffs over the jacket cuffs to cover the seams, add some colour, and give a little more visual refinement.

Details can also speak of maturity: after placing a wonderful folded pocket square (peaks up) in the breast pocket, Patrick decided to lose the brightly-coloured pin stuck in the buttonhole. I couldn’t have agreed more – the handkerchief set off the jacket and spoke of refinement, while the fun pin seemed at odds with the toned-down jacket.

So a simple but versatile linen sports jacket ushered Patrick into the House of Adulthood, and he’s eager to settle in. He’s a guy with a good attitude toward aging, and looks forward to see how he matures so he can reinvent himself, change his closets, and get comfortable in his new digs.

Dressing for (unbearably) hot weather

18 Jul
hot

Walking around in your undies may be the thing you want to do, but there are other alternatives.

It is a very hot week in Toronto and we’re walking around red-faced and wet with sweat. Weather this warm is uncomfortable for most people and dressing for it can be a challenge. Here are some tips for dressing in hellishly hot weather:

  • Air flow is very important in keeping cool – opt for loose-fitting clothing instead of tight clothing so there is some air circulation around the body;
  • Choose natural fibers like pure linen or one hundred percent cotton that are breathable;
  • Avoid polyester and other synthetics as they do not breathe. Polyester is made of fossil fuels (literally oil and gas) and is a finer yarn than a linen or cotton thread, giving a tighter weave that feels warmer because it does not allow air flow and traps perspiration – this can lead to stinky garments that stay stinky!
  • Even if you choose a cotton-polyester blend, the pure cotton is “watered down” by the synthetic which makes it stronger, but compromises the integrity of the cotton (i.e. breathability). Also, your poly-cotton shirt will wear faster because polyester tends to pill on the fabric surface,  giving an unsightly texture to a once smooth shirt, sock, or trouser;
  • If you are a denim-wearer, choose a lighter, thinner denim;
  • If you’re a man who sweats a lot, try wearing a sleeveless cotton undershirt under your collared shirt to absorb perspiration;
  • Wear light colours that reflect sunlight – dark colours absorb light and the heat that goes with it – shoes included;
  • If you’re in a suit or business casual, wear a tooled Oxford shoe that has holes to allow air flow to your feet;
  • Instead of going sockless (the perspiration from your feet will ruin the inside of your shoes), wear a short cotton sock that isn’t seen above your shoe – you should be able to find these in packages of three or six, giving you more bang for your buck;
  • Instead of using your sleeve or the back of your hand to wipe the sweat from your brow, add a little style and use a handkerchief to dab!

Finally, remember to wear your sunblock, sunglasses, drink lots of water, and stay in the shade!