Monday, April 28, 2008

It's All in the Armholes

I was recently asked what the difference was between high and low armholes. There is much, like the difference between day and night.

Armholes can make or break a suit jacket. Unfortunately for us today most modern jackets fail when it comes to armholes. Suits today are made with low armholes. This means the armhole is larger and goes down further on the body of the jacket. Sure, low armholes make it easier to put the jacket on and take it off but try lifting your arms above your head and you're practically smothered by the jacket. The lapels bow out, the body spreads, the shoulders rise and the cuff moves down the arm. It's not very comfortable nor useful. And it's ugly.

Just take a look at this modern suit jacket with low armholes.

Unattractive and not very useful at all. Uncomfortable, infact.

Now take a look at this suit jacket from the 1920s/early 1930s with high armholes.

Vintage suits nearly always had high armholes. High armholes are cut higher under the armpit and don't deform the jacket when the arms rise. Truly high armholes might be a tad uncomfortable (tight under the armpits) at first for anyone who normally wears jackets with low armholes but they are amazed when they lift their arms and the jacket stays in place.

But high armholes are a lost art. Today practically no off-the-rack suits and very few custom jackets are made with high armholes. Perhaps this is due to the ease that low armholed jackets slip on and off (high armholed jackets are a bit more difficult, usually one arm at a time). Yet jackets are meant to be worn and if a jacket is uncomfortable or badly made (low armholes are a bad design) I do not want to wear it. I take it off. At least that part is easy thanks to the low armholes...

Low armholes are the main reason modern jackets just don't seem to fit even when they are well cut. A jacket that is perfectly shaped to your body will still feel weird and wear wrong if it has low armholes. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back to high armholes like back before armholes went bad in the 1960s.

That's why Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were able to dance around all day and still be comfortable in their suits. It's all in the armholes.

What I Wore Yesterday

Nothing fancy, just plain, simple and striking. A bit more modern than usual.

*Target suit
*Target tie
*Younkers shirt with French Cuffs
*Vintage cuff links and tie bar
*Black toecap shoes

Of course, dressing like a dandy once in a while doesn't hurt either. I wore this again last week, this time at home rather than than travelling.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Target Suit

Target is selling suits for under $100. I bought one today. They are nice for the price. Not perfect, but still nice.

They also have some classic-pattern ties and decent shirts as well as a pretty cool vest in different fabric patterns and colors. Most of their ties are $20, a bit high but they are 100% silk. I bought one tie with a blue and white regimental pattern, very classy.

I bought a dark gray 3-button suit with pinstripes. Size 38R jacket, 32x32 flat-front trousers and no cuff. Surprisingly, the jacket sleeves are long enough for my monkey arms (usually I have to let jacket sleeves out a bit). Like most off-the-rack suits, it has low armholes and fails the armhole test so it will rise up whenever you raise your arms (see pics below). The jacket fits well around the torso and has some shape around the waist, not your usual "sack suit".

The trousers have medium rise and sit around the hips. They have a bit of taper but nothing extreme.

So, all in all a modern cut.

The fabric is light-weight but drapes well. It's a polyester/rayon blend but is not hot to wear.

The tie is 100% silk and is long, like most modern ties. Width is similar to 1930s ties. The material is thick but can be tied in skinnier knots, as the photos show. The length shown is as short as I can get it without tying a Windsor knot. I do like the color scheme, though, and it will make a nice spring/summer tie.

Total cost of the suit and tie was $112, not expensive by any means. Overall I'd say it's a good buy on a budget, though if you can afford more definitely look elsewhere before buying a Target suit.

Yep, low armholes. FAIL!

Looks better than some businessmen with higher end suits!

Monday, April 7, 2008

What I Wore and Two 'New' Hats

Was up visiting my friends from college yesterday so I had to be extra spiffy.

*Vintage Champ fedora (more below)
*Modern Arrow shirt
*1930s "Sugar and Spice" tie
*Modern 6x3 jacket
*Vintage vest
*Vintage watch chain
*Modern full-cut trousers
*Socks from the Gap
*Modern spectators
*Modern suspenders

Click on the first photo to enlarge.

I must say, I love that 6x3 jacket. It fits me so well and the lazy peaked lapels are so early 20th century in design.
I was also pleased how a sliver of sock showed when I walked, matching with my red pocket square. And while the tie was subtle (allowing the socks and pocket square to steal the show), it added nicely with a touch of color. Yes, this will be a great summer suit.

But what about the hat?

Well, it's a new one to me. It is a 1940s Champ "Diplomat" in "light Ecru". Size 6 7/8", it's a tad small (though it fits me more like a 7") but I was able to stretch it to a more comfortable size. It's in absolutely perfect condition. It's an unusual pinkish-tan/salmon color with a chocolate-brown ribbon and tan edging on the brim. Looks very much like the desirable Stetson Whippet. $4.
If you have ever found something of great value then you know what it was like for me finding this hat.

The second is an Imperial Stetson, size 7 1/8" (just my size). It has about a wide 3" brim and around a 4 1/2" crown. Tan in color, it has decorative stitching along the brim and on the felt ribbon. Dobbs made a hat in a similar style called the "Gay Prince".
*giggle snort*
Of course, it had a different meaning back then, but it's so difficult to remove a connotation from something that's been so ingrained into our society.
It has the softest felt I've ever seen. Even with steam it doesn't want to keep a bash; there's no stiffener at all. Unfortunately it has a couple of stains and moth nips, though they are on the top of the crown so they can't be seen when it is bashed. $10.

Proof that nice hats are still out there.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Gay Talese: The Scion, the Stitch, and the Wardrobe

The Scion, the Stitch, and the Wardrobe
Custom-tailored suits, with their carefully sculptured contours and other personalized details, have become a rarity over the last half-century. The author, a noted clotheshorse who was named to this year's International Best-Dressed List, bemoans the decline of this intimate craft, which was mastered by several generations of his male ancestors, including his father.

By Gay Talese
August 27, 2007

There are people who are greatly concerned about the environment and the well-being of Bengal tigers and yellow-headed Amazon parrots. And then there are people like me who worry about the professional survival of men's custom tailors. Each year I spend large sums of money in shops that employ these craftsmen, whom I see as an endangered species.

I have personally witnessed the economic decline and diminution of tailors, because my late father was one of them. An "artist with a needle and thread" is how I remember him. His occupational pride was rarely enriched by a sufficient number of customers to make his endeavors worthwhile, and thus most of our family's income during my Jersey-shore boyhood was derived from a flourishing dress boutique founded by my sociable and commercially minded mother. Still, I have fond recollections of my father's shop as it existed half a century ago: the bolts of exquisite fabric on the counters; the dressing rooms with red velvet curtains and three-sided mirrors; the framed posters of elegantly attired men wearing homburgs and fedoras, suits with pocket handkerchiefs, and overcoats with boutonniered buttonholes. Some of the men in the posters carried walking sticks; they were boulevardiers strolling through the streets of Paris, a city my father first came to know in 1920 during his stay as a 17-year-old apprentice eager to refine the tailoring skills he had begun learning after school in an uncle's shop in his native Italy.

My father made most of my suits during my school years through college. There had been tailors in his background for five generations, beginning in the early 1800s. His ancestors (and mine) dwelled in hillside villages and towns in the rugged mountains of Southern Italy, where there existed, especially among bride-seeking bachelors, a desire to wear fine clothes and create a favorable impression on young ladies. In the early evenings, these traditionally shy women stood watching within the shadows of residential balconies overlooking the main square, where crowds of men gathered to smoke and converse among themselves and sometimes walk around in pairs, arm in arm, in what was both a courtship ritual and an exhibition of masculine fashion.

In this early-20th-century setting, known as the passeggiata, the local tailors competed with one another to showcase their sartorial talents. Collectively they refined a particular style of dress in accord with the inherent vanity of Italian men, many of whom lived in quite modest circumstances. Indeed, in this part of Italy, where poverty was prevalent, there was an overwhelming interest in appearances; dressing up was a strategy for elevating one's public image. Making a good impression—fare la bella figura—was inbred in the culture, and engaging the services of a talented tailor was one of the simplest ways to get noticed. This may explain why so many of the outstanding tailors in Europe and the United States were either born in Southern Italy or influenced by the region's individualistic and rather rakish mode of male attire. While the English tailors of Savile Row produced clothing that bespoke an understated elegance, there was nothing understated about the work of the Italians: it suggested a demonstrative spirit, an emboldened nature, a desire to elicit the attention of young women on balconies. Most prominently, the Italian style was characterized by embroidered buttonholes and decorative stitching or piping along the edges of the lapels and down the outer seams of the trousers. In contrast to the slope-shouldered suits produced by the English, the Italians favored broad, slightly raised shoulders as well as colorful silk linings that could be glimpsed through the double vents at the back of the jackets.

It was in Paris that I developed a sophisticated appreciation of the tailor's art. During a trip there in the mid-1950s, on furlough from a U.S. military base in Germany, I visited an older cousin of my father's named Antonio Cristiani, who had left Italy for France in 1911 and operated a very successful shop near the Paris opera house on the Rue de la Paix. From that first tour of Cristiani's showroom I became a devotee of his suits, and in the ensuing years, as I gradually earned enough money from my writing to afford being a customer, I was fitted for dozens of them, each one costing between $2,500 and $3,000—even with my family discount. But I've always been able to justify this spending, as I alluded to earlier, because I see myself as helping to underwrite the continued existence of an endangered species of craftsmen who produce handstitched apparel. Whenever I purchase yet another suit, I remind myself that the money I'm spending would buy another man a new set of golf clubs. (I don't play golf.) Moreover, my entire wardrobe—between 80 and 90 suits from such distinguished names as Brioni, Zegna, Smalto, DiMitri, Battaglia, and Meledandri, as well as Cristiani—would hardly match the purchase price of any one of the 40-foot motor yachts I see in such abundance whenever I cross a bridge near my summer home in Ocean City, New Jersey.

Yet it seems impertinent to make financial comparisons when what I'm mainly interested in is the aesthetics of the tailoring profession, and my small part within it as a patron, a preservationist, and an advocate of the perfect fit—and the idea that measurements can alter the mind. A large percentage of the suits I wear are 20, 30, even 40 years old, and they are mostly representative of the classic 1930s style, my favorite period. But they are never out of fashion, since these clothes set their own fashion. There are double-breasted and single-breasted suits—both with waistcoats in some cases—and they have high pointed lapels or rounded lapels of a unique cut that sets them apart. They are dateless in a sense and, because they are carefully crafted, are long-lasting. If something I like is damaged or beyond repair—such as a Paris-made Smalto jacket stained by my ink pen—I have the jacket copied by a tailor I know in New York, and thus it lives on in thread and fabric. Since I like holding on to my clothes, however, it is important that I not gain weight. I have kept my weight at pretty much the same for nearly a half-century, meaning I work out a lot and try to stay away from ice cream.

Putting on a beautifully designed suit elevates my spirit, extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter. Well-tailored clothing is a celebration of precision. When I'm wearing one of my custom suits, I'm in harmony with my highest ideals, my worship of great workmanship. In this period of globalization and outsourcing, of voicemail vacuousness and shopping on the Internet, there are few things more gratifying to me than standing in a clothing shop getting a second or third fitting from a tailor who is personally and pridefully engaged in what he's doing.

Gay Talese is the author of 11 books, including The Kingdom and the Power, Thy Neighbor's Wife, Unto the Sons, and, most recently, A Writer's Life. His Web site resides at


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