Tag Archives: trousers

The truth about pants (dedicated to a disgruntled Toronto Star reader)

4 Oct

People tell me I’ve hit the big time when I receive hate mail.

I write as the men’s entrepreneurial image expert in the  Toronto Star‘s Small Business section, and one day, I got a 4 am  email from an intelligent but angry reader who couldn’t believe that I would waste his time talking about something as unimportant as socks.

He got personal, saying that I was the best journalist this side of Fox news, and expressed an interest in reading future posts he envisioned such as, “Belts vs Suspenders, which one makes you more money?” and “The Truth About Pants”.

I thought the latter would make a fine blog topic, so in honour of  this disgruntled reader, I’m pleased to tell you the truth about pants!

History

Costume is divided into five major types of clothing: draped (a wrapped cloth – e.g. togas), slip-on (over-the-head – e.g. poncho), closed sewn (e.g. tunic, shirt), open sewn costume (long cloth closed, stitched, worn over other garments – e.g. coats, caftan, Russian tulup), and sheath (sewn and tubular, fitted closely to the body – e.g. breeches, skirts).

There is evidence in Bronze Age paintings found in the Spanish Levant that men wore some kind of leather trouser that was adorned with fringe and sometimes garters, and there is mention of  “linen breeches” for all “the sons of Aaron” in Exodus XXVIII, but it wasn’t until people started riding horses that these leg tubes caught on.

Before this, men wore the types of clothing women wore – robes, mantles, and tunics. When horses became the prime mode of transportation, riding with two free legs was preferable, so the garment  was adopted by individual riders and mounted armies who, over time, made them part of military uniforms.

Heavily pleated Japanese hakama

Civilizations in Asia and Europe had some form of pants. In Japan, the Samurai wore a kind of pleated split skirt called the hakama, Turks had harem pants, and the Gauls and Celts wore breeches (brit-chez) and trousers. European breeches morphed into hose or chausses, which looked like hip-waders made of wool that tied to the braies, short drawers tied around the waist.

Chausses tied to braies

Bracae, Latin for breeches took a while to catch on in Rome, though Italy was surrounded with cultures that wore some kind of leg covering. Ancient Roman men generally avoided wearing trousers or pants of any kind, considering them barbaric, and worn by “uncivilized” people who lived outside areas controlled by Rome, like the Gauls who lived in present-day France, or the Celts in the north. But during the Roman conquests of cooler northern Europe, the chilly Roman army adopted the local dress of short, tight leg coverings for warmth and protection, which were eventually brought to Rome.

These breeches they would have worn looked like pajama bottoms, tied to the waist and held to the legs by criss-crossed bands of linen or other material. Feminalia were snugly fitting knee-length pants that covered the length of the thighbone, or femur (hence the name). Augustus Caesar (63 B.C.E. –14 C.E. ), the famous Roman emperor wore feminalia through the winter “to protect his sometimes fragile health”. (Source)

Evolution

Parti-coloured hose in Medieval Spain

In the 14th century, the cut and construction of men’s hose improved, and parti-coloured hose, hose with different coloured legs, were popular in Europe. These hose were made of knitted wool, sometimes lined with linen, and often coloured red, black, or brown – popular colours of the period made so with dyes of iron ore.

During Henry VI’s reign, men’s hose got a little more structured and laced to the doublet which, I assume, gave an increased feeling of security to the wearer. The 15th century saw the inclusion of the infamous codpiece that began as a triangle of fabric laced to the crotch to cover a gentleman’s tackle.

Early codpiece

By the time of Henry VIII, codpieces were the order of the day, padded and exaggerated in size, sometimes used as pouches for coins and such. Codpieces peeked out from the divide of a Tudor gent’s waistcoat skirts, not to be ignored!

Hose separated into two parts in the middle of the 16th century, becoming upper and lower hosen. The lower hose were more like a stocking and the upper hose looked like puffed shorts, made of brocades if the wearer could afford it. This upper piece was known as trunk hose.

16th century trunk hose

From this point in time, the trunk hose grew in length, becoming nether hosen during the Elizabethan reign, then into huge pleated knee-length slops in 1600, and heavily pleated bag breeches later in the century. For the next few hundred years, the lower garments grew longer and slimmer, becoming pantaloons by the 19th century.

Long pants as we know them today appeared during the early 1800s and have kept on since, varying in widths and rise lengths (the distance from waistband to crotch) during different eras. Front openings have evolved from tie-on crotch covers (codpieces) to button front flaps (fall-front) to a modern zippered fly.

Lots of changes, lots of forms. That is the true story of pants, an interesting and complex evolution of leg tubes developed for equine travel.

Further reading: article on pant origins in The Atlantic.

All-purpose clothing maintenance

19 May

This week, I’d like to give you fellas some very simple and very do-able image-enhancing tips on keeping your basics nice and neat to give you a polished look.  Ready? Here we go!

Basics for ties 

Ties are cut on the bias of silk, meaning that they are cut on the diagonal instead of the straight of the grain, like most garments are. This method of cutting gives an elasticity to the fabric, useful in the tying of the ties but making the tie different in maintenance than other garments. When ties wrinkle, they’re not meant to be ironed. Instead, the bias-cut of the fabric allows the weight of the weave to lie differently and because  of this, wrinkles are easily smoothed by rolling them instead of hanging them up. Try storing them rolled on a flat surface like in a drawer.

Are you the kind of guy that isn’t comfortable tying ties and you leave your ties knotted for the next wear? I have some sympathy for you knot-challenged fellas but remember that a proper gent will knot a fresh tie each day, so try to learn how to do at least one basic knot (i.e. the four-in-hand). Once you have this mastered, you can move onto the Half Windsor and if you want to get really fancy, try the Full Windsor. Tie knots may seem intimidating at first, but with practice, will become habit. Google “tie knots” and find the right illustration or video for you to follow – there are lots to choose from.

Keep your shirts in shape

When hanging your shirts up on hangers, button the top button to keep the collar band in shape.

I’m always telling my clients that they can extend the life of their shirts if they keep the collar in shape. To do this, simply button up the top button on the shirt, found on what is called the collar band. Sandwiched in between the back and front fabric of the collar and the collar band is the fusing/interfacing which gives shape and body to the collar pieces. Doing up the top button will keep your collars stiff, round, and in good shape.

Dry clean only trousers

If you’re a fan of wool pants, you’ll notice the “dry clean only” symbol on the washing tag. I know that especially for you bachelors, dry cleaning is a godsend, but do be aware that the dry cleaning process is hard on humans and the environment as it uses highly flammable chemical solvents to get your clothes clean. Dry cleaning can also get expensive.

Dry clean symbol

An alternative to dry cleaning is wet cleaning or environmental cleaning which many dry cleaners offer, easier on the earth but a method that will still cost you – check some good dry cleaning alternatives link here.

I’ve got a couple of tricks for you to help you stretch from cleaning to cleaning:

  • Hang your trousers outside to air them out and freshen them up;
  • If your trousers are already creased, run a not-too-hot steam iron over them to crisp the crease and don’t be afraid to press the hem or cuffs, and steam out the thigh and knee creases created from sitting in the trousers. A good shot of steam should help the fabric recover its shape some.

Washers and dryers: sock’s natural enemy 

Losing a sock during the laundering process is frustrating. I’ve observed enough sock behaviour over time to understand that socks may actually reappear if you have patience: 

  • Check around the washing machine – sometimes they fall out as we stuff clothes into the washer;
  • Look for them in the pockets of your fitted sheets;
  • If you used the dryer, check inside of clothes – static might be holding your sock in something else;
  • If it’s an athletic sock you’re missing, look in your gym bag.

If you lost a sock and you’ve done the above suggestions and it’s been a few loads since you lost the original, chances are it’s gone, in which case, the one left over should be tossed – i.e. leaving the lone sock around is a temptation to wear it with another lone sock when you run out of laundry. Try to avoid this – it won’t do you any favours. For more sock info, please read Sock schlock.

Polish your shoes 

One of the easiest ways to sharpen your visual image is to keep your shoes polished – a shiny shoe will make better the outfit you threw together because you woke up late for work, and a dirty, worn shoe will betray the outfit that you so carefully put together.

The simplest solution to keeping your shoes clean and polished is to keep polish, brushes, sponges, and protective sprays next to the space where you store your shoes. This way, all you have to do is reach for what you need and get the job done right then and there!

To keep it simple and to get a fast and easy shine, I suggest the KIWI Express Shine Sponge – buy two and keep one at home near your dress shoes, and in your desk at the office. Check out the info here.

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.