Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Questions From Readers

Here are a some questions from two readers. Send me questions you have via the email link on the right side of the page!

From S.A. :
To recap your post on higher armholes: are they a better fit ?

In your compare/contrast picture, what are the exact flaws?

When you raise your arms, the jacket "moves" ? I notice the jacket is being pulled to the outside (tension on the top button).

Is that the main symptom? Anything else I should notice?

Houndtooth's response:

Yes, they make for a better fit.

The flaws are these: (1.) the armholes are low, creating a sort of 'web' between the arms and the jacket body when the arms are raised, (2.) those 'webs' pull the rest of the jacket upward, drowning the wearer in shoulder pads and fabric and (3.) the lapels bow outward, breaking the clean look of the jacket. As you mentioned, the buttons are also tensioned as a result. Those are the main symptoms of armholes that are not only too low but also shaped badly.

Below are photos a few examples of good and bad armholes. I use politicians because they are usually wealthy and should have no excuse for bad suits but are some of the worst committers of the crime of low armholes.

A good armhole worn by Truman:

click photos to enlarge
Note that when Pres. Truman raised his arm his suit pretty much stayed in place. The lapels did not bow out. There is no giant 'web' between his arm and body.

On the other hand, when Bush and Obama raise their arms to wave their low-armholed suits follow suit.

click to enlarge photos

The shoulders move up, the lapels bow out and the entire jacket moves. That is why even when a modern suit is well made, fits nicely and looks good, if it does not have the correct armholes it will be uncomfortable to wear.

High and correctly shaped armholes are key to a good suit.

Another question from R.K.A. :
I used to have no problem (in the '70's) finding over-the-calf dress socks with a wide welt. In fact some of them went almost to my knees, and I enjoyed the confidence of KNOWING my bare leg would never be seen.

Now all I can find for my 6'-1" frame hit me mid calf and have a sharp band at the top of the sock that feels like a tourniquet after 5 minutes. I need a sock that is about 19" tall and my calf measures about 19" around.

I found
these but am I doomed to paying $40+ dollars for a pair of socks??

Any suggestions??

Houndstooth's response:

I see that 'Gold Toe' makes a few different models of over the calf socks at various prices that are fairly cheaper than the ones you linked to. I don't know the quality or the type of welt, but that might be something for you to look into.

Here are a few:

Unfortunately these types of socks aren't overly popular so finding quality examples at a decent price might be a bit difficult. And they'll probably be rather bland as well.

Send in those questions!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Too Popular For Its Own Good

"...He now rose, holding a white object. And at the sight of it, I realized that another of our domestic crises had arrived, another of those unfortunate clashes of will between two strong men, and that Bertram, unless he remembered his fighting ancestors and stood up for his rights, was about to be put upon.

I don’t know if you were at Cannes this summer. If you were, you will recall that anybody with any pretensions to being the life and soul of the party was accustomed to attend binges at the Casino in the ordinary evening-wear trouserings topped to the north by a white mess-jacket with brass buttons. And ever since I had stepped aboard the Blue Train at Cannes station, I had been wondering on and off how mine would go with Jeeves.

In the matter of evening costume, you see, Jeeves is hidebound and reactionary. I had had trouble with him before about soft-bosomed shirts. And while these mess-jackets had, as I say, been all the rage—_tout ce qu’il y a de chic_—on the Cote d’Azur, I had never concealed it from myself, even when treading the measure at the Palm Beach Casino in the one I had hastened to buy, that there might be something of an upheaval about it on my return.

I prepared to be firm.

“Yes, Jeeves?” I said. And though my voice was suave, a close observer in a position to watch my eyes would have noticed a steely glint. Nobody has a greater respect for Jeeves’s intellect than I have, but this disposition of his to dictate to the hand that fed him had got, I felt, to be checked. This mess-jacket was very near to my heart, and I jolly well intended to fight for it with all the vim of grand old Sieur de Wooster at the Battle of Agincourt.

“Yes, Jeeves?” I said. “Something on your mind, Jeeves?”

“I fear that you inadvertently left Cannes in the possession of a coat belonging to some other gentleman, sir.”

I switched on the steely a bit more.

“No, Jeeves,” I said, in a level tone, “the object under advisement is mine. I bought it out there.”

“You wore it, sir?”

“Every night.”

“But surely you are not proposing to wear it in England, sir?”

I saw that we had arrived at the nub.

“Yes, Jeeves.”

“But, sir--

“You were saying, Jeeves?”

“It is quite unsuitable, sir.”

“I do not agree with you, Jeeves. I anticipate a great popular success for this jacket. It is my intention to spring it on the public tomorrow at Pongo Twistleton’s birthday party, where I confidently expect it to be one long scream from start to finish. No argument, Jeeves. No discussion. Whatever fantastic objection you may have taken to it, I wear this jacket.”

“Very good, sir.”

He went on with his unpacking. I said no more on the subject. I had won the victory, and we Woosters do not triumph over a beaten foe..."

~Right Ho, Jeeves, Ch. 1, J. G. Wodehouse, 1922.

click photos to enlarge

The mess jacket: bathed in honor by the military, bored servitude by waiters and bellhops. No middle ground between the two.

But that was not always so.

I've enjoyed the look of the mess jacket since first seeing it. It's a sleek, dashing article that gives the wearer the appearance of long legs and an athletic figure (it helps to really have an athletic figure). That's why I bought one.

While the mess jacket grew out of military formal tradition and had been around for quite some time, it first became popular with civilians in 1933 for warm weather semi-formal dress occasions. As pictured above, regular high-waisted dinner jacket trousers were to be worn with it along with a cummerbund, bowtie and a semi-bossom shirt. An elegant and sophisticated look with, perhaps, a touch of Eastern influence.

Unfortunately during the mid-1930s the mess jacket became too popular for its own good. Waiters and bellhops eventually adopted the look, thereby relieving the stylish and fashionable of their individualistic outfit. Once the masses got ahold of the mess jacket its time as a viable fancy dress suit was up. By 1936 several influential men's style magazine were mocking the mess jacket and its wearers into sartorial oblivion. It also didn't help that the mess jacket is only flattering on athletic frames. On anyone else who is plumper it becomes fairly outrageous and reveals more than one wishes to see. Unfortunate, that.

Here is the vintage mess jacket I recently picked up. It dates from the late 1950s or early 1960s, is a U.S. Navy jacket and was tailored in the Philippines by 'Yee Fook Tailors' (giggle, snort). Like any good mess jacket it is made of lightweight cotton material for those warm summer evenings and is cream, though mess jackets can also be black or very dark blue. It is meant to be worn open as the Esquire illustration above shows but can be buttoned up if needed.

Being military, mine has a few items that would have to be removed for civilian wear such as the ribbon around the arms, the epaulette straps on the shoulders and the brass U.S. Navy buttons traded for more conventional buttons, brass of otherwise.

An unconventional look that, if done well, could be pulled off in this day and age without looking like a professional waiter. I for one would like to see the mess jacket come back into popular wear for civilians just as it did back in 1933...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

WIW: Donegal Tweed

Good tweed weather today: not cold enough for an overcoat but cold enough for a heavy tweed suit.

While not a new suit to me, today was the first time I've ever worn this one. It's a nice donegal tweed from the early 1940s. I've owned it nearly 2 years and it was my second vintage suit but I never got around to altering it until recently.

The arms had to be let down (they're still just a tad short)and the trousers needed to be lengthened. Unfortunately I had to sacrifice the trouser cuffs but the trousers are flat front so it's alright.

I wish I hadn't waited so long!

Many positive comments today about this one.

click photos to enlarge

The sweater vest is "American Living" brand from J.C. Penney, on sale.

Check out that material! Heavy, itchy and thick. Thankfully the trousers are lined at the knees, otherwise sitting in them would have been unbearable.

This suit really stands out in the crowd.

I believe this suit to be a drape suit as the above photo illustrates. The trousers drape beatifully as well.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Man's World

Van Heusen tie ad, 1951.

click to enlarge

I like his thinking. ;)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Classic Tie Storage on the Cheap

Watching the "Jeeves and Wooster" DVD series recently reminded me of a small project I meant to undertake but about which I had forgotten.

As of recently I had hung my 100 or so ties from special vintage tie racks and on hangers in the closet. While the vintgae tie racks (with their nifty 'style chart') are an excellent but sometimes expensive form of storage, hanging ties from hangers in the closet can sometimes get annoying as the ties get twisted up, slide off or become unbalanced, tilting the hanger toward one end.

Perhaps the best way to store ties is to roll them up individally so that they are not only compact and easy to handle but also will not get tangled. Many big-name haberdasheries and men's stores display ties rolled up as it saves space in the sometimes cramped confines of a store as well as can make for an attractive display.

But how to keep these rolled up ties together and out of the way but also easily viewable? How about one or two of those cheap plastic college drawers you find at Wally World? The ones below are the 8.5"x 11" paper storage model and cost a mere $6 each. A drawer will hold 15-18 ties each, depending upon the ties of course. That means each unit of three drawers can store 45-54 ties!

Now, high-end tie drawers are usually made of fine woods with intricate craftsmanship but cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The average man not only cannot afford such a luxury and probably doesn't have any desire for it either. Though not quite as stylish, the plastic stackable drawers shown above (two shown, three drawers each) are affordable to most everyone and they do the job of the expensive ones just as well. Drop in a piece of cedar or a moth ball to keep the moths at bay and you're set. They can be stacked, unstacked, tucked away in a closet and can be used in ways other than storing ties.

Become creative in the care and storage of your sartorial items and you'd be suprised at the amount of money and space you save.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

WIW: Zoot Influence?

Haven't done one of these for a while since I've had the misfortune to work every Sunday for as long as I can remember.

For the last few days it's been below 0 degrees F. Perfect weather for overcoats, scarves and gloves.

*Astrakhan overcoat from the '30s
*Stetson Special from the late '30s
*Flannel suit from the mid-'40s
*Modern cashmere scarf
*Tie is '30s too

**click photos to enlarge**

The gloves are NOS (no longer) deerskin gloves from the '30s, probably.

The suit seems to have some zoot influence though is much more conservative in style. The sleek vertical design as well as the trouser taper below the knee points to that influence. If the jacket was longer in the body it would look very much like this zoot suit:


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