Tag Archives: pockets

The secret life of your clothes

27 Oct

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I would write a post about what your clothing goes through before you own it, and today is the day. I’ll be covering the little-known chemical finishes used in textile manufacture, and why your pockets and vents are sewn shut when you buy them, in the hopes that you will take heed and prepare your clothing before you wear it out in public – it’s all about a polished image and more than that, it can be a matter of your health!

Why are my pockets sewn shut?

Clip the stitching from your breast pocket if you like a pocket square in your breast pocket.

When you buy a new suit, sports jacket, or outdoor coat, you may notice that your pockets are not working because they’re sewn shut. This goes for coat pockets and breast pockets on the outside of the garment. Pockets are sewn shut for a few reasons. First, sewn and secured pockets are easily pressed and won’t be pulled out of shape when they are shipped from their country of origin. Second, flat pockets will look nice and smooth when on display at retail stores and retain their shape when people try them on.

Pockets are meant to be functional. When you purchase the items, your tailor or retailer might remove the stitching for you, but if not, snip out the threads that hold your pockets together on your own if you’re going to use them. Some men won’t remove the stitching from their outside suit pockets because they know they won’t be using them (perhaps the inside pockets of their jackets will suffice), and this leaves the front of the coat smooth and intact.

For men who like to have extra space for light pieces (hankies, business cards, or lip balm), the pocket stitching should be removed so they can be used. (Tip – try not to carry heavy or bulky articles in the outside pockets of your suits and sports jackets or the bulk will pull them out of shape and you may look somewhat disheveled – not a good look.)

The breast pocket is used for pocket squares, so if you wear these to polish and punctuate your jackets, open this pocket. If not, leave it.

Why are my vents sewn shut?

X stitching on jacket vents are meant to be clipped.

A vent is a slit up the back seams of your coat, breaking the hem for ease of movement. There can be a single vent at the bottom of the centre back seam, or two vents off of the back side seams. Opening your vents will give you more space to put your hands into your pockets and will allow you to sit comfortably because there won’t be anything pulling across your hips.

You may notice an X stitched over your coat vents before you buy it. This is done prior to shipping to keep the coats flat and smooth, and may be found on your sport coats, suit jackets, and topcoats. This stitching should be clipped and removed. If it is not removed, it looks odd, unprofessional, and some may say, naive, so open ‘er up, give yourself some space, and be confident that you look good and proper in your clothes!

Formaldehyde

Textiles, even those of natural origin, go through a tremendous amount of chemical treatment. You may be surprised to learn that the most common chemical resin used in textile production is formaldehyde and you’re probably surrounded by it right now.

“Textile formaldehyde resins have been used on fabrics since the mid 1920’s by the textiles industry to make wrinkle and stain resistant garments (e.g. permanent press),” says Allergy, Sensitivity & Environmental Health Association Qld Inc. (ASEHA). (Read their excellent article on this topic here.)

Looking at urea-formaldehyde, the type used in textiles, it has excellent tensile strength and low water absorption due to it being a thermoplastic resin. Materials most likely to have been treated with formaldehyde resins are:

  • Rayon
  • Blended cotton (i.e. polyester-cotton)
  • Corduroy
  • Wrinkle-resistant 100% cotton
  • Shrink-proof wool (“superwash” wool)
  • Any synthetic blended polymer (i.e. rayon, polyester-cotton)
  • Heavy stiff fabrics
  • Upholstery and craft materials

Though good, strong, and easy care, wearing formaldehyde-treated fabrics next to our skin is not necessarily a good thing, especially for those with chemical sensitivities. Luckily, some materials are not treated with formaldehyde and should not affect the sensitive. One way to recognize the absence of formaldehyde is to look for soft fabrics that will hold the wrinkles when scrunched in your hand. As listed on the ASEHA site, some fabrics not treated with formaldehyde resins are: 100% silk, 100% linen (if it wrinkles easily), 100% polyester, 100% acrylic, 100% nylon, Spandex, flannel (if soft), denim, and wool.

Remember, formaldehyde is an “anti” treatment – anti-wrinkle, anti-stain, anti-static, etc. These easy care finishes are not natural and are achieved through chemical treatment. Often, they are permanent and can cause allergic reactions in some people.

“Washing new formaldehyde resin treated clothing may reduce the levels of free formaldehyde but is not sufficient to prevent a textile resin reaction in a previously sensitized patient. Multiple washes combined with airing in the sun may reduce levels further but remember the manufacturers put in a lot of work into making these finishes ‘permanent’,” says ASEHA.

Though we know that some of the chemical finishes are not going to wash out, I always like to wash my new stuff just the same before I wear it. With any luck, the “new clothes” smell will wash out and the garment may loosen up by removing some of the undoubtedly chemical “filler”, especially if it is an inexpensive garment. (Though if it is really inexpensive, washing out the fillers will reduce the garment to a rag because that was almost all it was made up of, hence the low price you paid for it.)

When I think of formaldehyde, I think of embalming. (Believe it or not, I used to date an embalmer who explained his use of a huge syringe to suck out body fluids of the corpse, then another needle the same size to inject the formaldehyde into the body.) I found out an interesting tidbit about the embalming process during research: if the lungs of an embalmed body float after being immersed in the formaldehyde solution, “then a mortician concludes that the deceased was breathing while he passed away. If they do not float then the person was not breathing.” (Source)

Formaldehyde is all around us and apart from its use in the textiles industry, it is used as a disinfectant, in darkroom photography, as a foam insulator, fertilizer, and in wood products. I also found out that formaldehyde and sulfuric acid is used to create Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as club drug, extacy, and formaldehyde is also used in drugs to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Formaldehyde is a finish that doesn’t make us work as hard (e.g. anti-wrinkle = less time ironing) but as with most blessings, there often lurks a curse.

Health problems

The thing about formaldehyde is that it is a chemical that is used liberally in manufacturing and there do not seem to be strong enforceable guidelines or rules on its use (though Japan seems to be the most compliant to standards). To some people, formaldehyde can be toxic. People prone to Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) are often affected by chemical treatments of fabrics, and are believed to be of a physiology weakened by overexposure to chemical toxins.

These people may experience conditions including dermatitis, headache, trouble concentrating, memory problems, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing, irregular heart beat, and seizures that range from mild to life-threatening.

ASEHA cited a study that found an incidence rate of 10% in men and 5% in women for formaldehyde allergy, and that more men cross-reacted to formaldehyde textile resins.

So if we can’t wash it out of our clothes and this nasty chemical is everywhere, what are we to do? The Organic Lifestyle site urges us to wear more natural fiber clothing that has been organically grown and manufactured like organic help, cotton, bamboo, and wools. The site believes that manufacturing phases are critical to producing healthy clothing, and without chemical finishes on our textiles, there may be a greater health in society in general.

The textile industry is well known to use heavy chemical treatments in production, and I for one am not too jazzed about this. However, with education comes understanding and change, and hopefully we’re moving toward clothing closer to the natural materials (the US is now developing low or non-formaldehyde finishes). Rome wasn’t built in a day, gents, so take baby steps and maybe over time we can get to a chemical-free closet. We have to start by asking for it.

Let’s talk about suits, baby

3 Feb

Like my suit? Bogart Menswear, Toronto.

Do you know the difference between off-the-rack, made-to-measure, and bespoke suits? Want to learn about basic suit features so you’ll be a more efficient suit buyer? This week, let’s talk about suits, baby.

I’m inspired by the lovely bright navy striped suit I had made recently at one of my men’s stores. Not quite warm enough to run around in during a Canadian winter, but I’ll appreciate the lightweight wool in the summer.

During the process of deciding on how I wanted my suit to look, there were many things to consider. My first decision was how the suit would be created: by hand to my exact measurements, my measurements worked into an existing pattern, or something already made.

BESPOKE According to Savile Row tailors in London, “bespoke” is a 17th century term for cloth that was “spoken for” at tailor shops. Bespoke clothing is born of many individual measurements and a pattern created to fit only you. It is the most prestigious type of suit one can get, the most comfortable, the best wearing, and the best investment. True bespoke suits are hand-made in every way from seams to buttonholes; bespoke work is art and the epitome of clothing decadence (with a price point to match).

MADE-TO-MEASURE A made-to-measure suit takes your measurements and applies them to an existing suit pattern. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a made-to-measure suit, as you will have your choice of fabric, style, lapel, pocket, lining, etc., but it is not a bespoke garment and the proportions of the pattern may or may not work for you. Your tailor should be able to help here, as mine did.

OFF-THE-RACK When we buy off the rack, we get instant gratification – it’s already put together! We can wear it out of the store if we want to but try to take a pause between ringing up the sale and walking out with it;  most of you will not be able to wear an off-the-rack suit off-the-rack because these garments are built from patterns made of “average” measurements and so few of us are truly average. Also, humans are not symmetrical and the factory-made patterns are. The best thing to do with an off-the-rack suit is to take it to a tailor to have it hemmed and tweaked to our bodies. It isn’t going to fit as fantastically as having something made, but it will really make a difference.

When having a suit made, we become part of the design process and make design decisions that dictate what the suit will look like. This is the most fun part for me because I get to use my imagination.

FABRIC One of the most beautiful freedoms in dressing is choosing material for the garment we’re having made. For a suit, we have thousands of choices of wools in varying degrees of softness and weights, a billion colours, thin or wide pinstripes, chalk stripes, or tone-on-tone patterns woven into the fabric. My tailors tell me that the best fabrics come from Italy and Britain (i.e. Savile Row), and these bolts of wooly wonder are absolutely glorious to the touch and delightful to the eye. My suit fabric is very light, soft, and bright!

STYLE Single or double breasted, one, two, three, and four button jackets go in and out of style. Double breasted suits looked great in the 40s and the 80s, but are not so chic these days, though I expect them to have a future hey-day. Four-button jackets in the 2000s seemed a little severe to me, especially on the shorter man, but what the hell, I hope guys felt good in this short-lived style.  Personally, I went with a never-fail two-button single breasted jacket.

Youthful and thin?A skinny suit may be for you.

FIT Let’s be logical and proportionate here: if you’re stylish and slim, wear a skinny suit, if you’re average or heavy, don’t wear a skinny suit. It’s all about proportion: the small box of Grapenuts cereal we buy in grocery stores is relative to the size of the intended serving, and similarly, a man’s build should be relative to the cut of his suit. Dig?

Right now, the Mad Men-inspired skinny suits are very much in fashion and can come off looking youthful, very sharp and fashion forward, but these suits are a very trim cut with a high arm hole, making them suitable for you Slim Jims out there. A too-trim sausage casing may be uncomfortable on a larger man AND there isn’t a lot of room for your junk, if you know what I’m saying… again, Grapenuts.

Peaked lapel

Notched lapel

LAPELS Another nice thing about having a suit made is that you and your tailor can choose the shapes in your suit. In my case, I chose the more dramatic peak lapel, because I know I’m the type to pull it off, but this type of lapel doesn’t suit everyone.

A safe and common-place notched lapel is an alternative to the edgier peaked lapel. Notched lapels widen and thin over time, but the notched style has remained true since the creation of the suit in the 1850s.

I felt that my personality and my suit fabric complimented the sharp, peaked lapel style, so I’m rocking it.

VENTS Another decision that you and your tailor will make is what type of vent you want on the back of your jacket. I think a single vent from the center back seam is the safest way to go for most men’s builds, and this is what I went with.

Double, single, and no vent.

Double, single, and no vent

Double vents can be quite stylish on a slim man and gives more room to access what’s in his trouser pockets, but if you’ve got a prominent caboose, opt not for a double vent because your seat will make the vents gape. Also beware of jackets with no vent at all – this was the 1980s suit look: boxy, short, and closed. Depending on the style of your suit, this style may look dated, so be aware of that.

POCKETS There are different types of pockets to choose from on your suit jacket: flapped, unflapped, ticket pocket, and patch pockets, built in slanted or straight.

Flapped, unflapped, and patch pockets

Personally, the patch pockets are reminiscent of the 70s to me, so I generally avoid them; an unflapped pocket is nice and streamlined, and the most common suit jacket pocket, the flapped version, can easily turn into a unflapped pocket simply by stuffing the flap inside of the pocket.

LINING Another perk to having a suit built is that you have the freedom to choose your lining to accent your suit. This is where we make a splash on the underside of our fabulous suit. I went with a bold red lining and asked for extra inside pockets – phone, lipstick, business card folder, $, etc.  For more on lining, have a look at my lining post from September.

TROUSERS With suit trousers, there are several decisions to make: the cut, fullness, style, pocket type, cuffs, and pleats. I follow general rules of thumb:

1. Flat front trousers suit most men, have an updated look, and streamline the body; single pleats will add a little room in the leg, and double pleats I just avoid in general because they can give a guy visual weight.

2. As a design feature, I really like cuffs, but if you’re a shorty and you want your leg to look longer, don’t cuff your pants.

3. Slash pockets on the side seam and pockets of shallow angles may gape and give a “hippy” look if a guy is heavy and / or has wide hips to begin with, and especially if the fabric is thick (hello cotton twill Dockers):

1/8 Top Pocket

Pockets slanted at a deeper angle toward the front will prevent this, but don’t be afraid to try a non-linear style that eliminates the problem:

Western or jean-style

Full top

My jacket fits very well but the tailor wasn’t expecting me to have bulgy legs and cut the trouser tapered to the ankle – I could barely get them over my calves! They went back and opened the seams as much as they could so now they’re passable, but we learned that Leah can’t wear a tapered leg – we of the generous shank and booty need more space, so please lay some straight cuts, athletic cuts, or relaxed cuts on us.

A suit is an investment so it’s best to have an idea of what you’re doing. I hope this helps and inspires you to go find a tailor and have a gorgeous suit built that you feel fantastic in because when we feel fantastic, we do fantastic things.