Friday, September 30, 2011

Who's Got The Button?

(Part 1 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 34
If there is one thing that I have hopefully impressed upon you over lo these many months, it is that the most important attribute of your clothes is an exactness of fit. And if there are two things, it is how very beneficial it is to find a good local tailor who both makes traditional clothes and does alterations. Money spent on altering your clothes to fit you, is money well spent.

But I am also aware that money is tight in these dark times; and when jobs are scarce, unemployment is high, economies are weak, and currencies are unstable, money for tailors will nearly always take a back seat in favor of money for food.

In previous installments, I have shown you how to take the thrifty path to dressing well: how to measure yourself, and shop for your togs in an efficient way that saves both time and ready cash; the result of which is an old-money look on a no-money budget. The rule stands that the more work you can do yourself, the more wampum remains in your wallet; and this is equally true for tailoring and alterations as for anything else.

So here we embark at the start of a brand-new mini-series that will take us through Christmas (thus the name!) and beyond. No, I will not try to make you into a tailor! What I will do, is show you some minor alterations you can do on your own clothes to improve their exactiude of fit -- and why your clothes act the way they do. In many cases, these corrections are "work-arounds:" they take a major problem and redirect it into a minor one. It won't take the place of a professional tailor re-working your clothes, but it will greatly reduce the number and severity of your misfits, to the point that your clothes will withstand all but the most critical scrutiny, and with no undue outlay of capital.

We will start on the most basic, and simplest, of alterations. It involves the slight repositioning of a jacket button, to the extent of perhaps a half-inch. It will take you very little time, but it is a good basic start to the series -- and it will make a tremendous impact on the way your jackets will fit.

Like all clothing misfits, this one comes about because the shape of your clothing does not exactly jibe with the shape of you. Jackets are cut straight and symmetrical -- but no one stands exactly straight. We invariably meet with some element of contrapposto, which results when you stand with your weight more on one foot than the other. This results with one leg straighter than the other, which affects your hips, your spine, your shoulders, and your neck; each twisting a bit one way and then a bit the other way to compensate for the shifts in balance. Nothing wrong with that; to the contrary, a contrapposto stance is a relaxed and natural one. With the passage of years, your particular stance becomes habitual. Let's look at an example.

This tailor's form is an exact duplicate of my natural stance. (You can make one too: I show you how in the installment called Say Hello To My Little Friend.) You can clearly see the contrapposto in the shoulders. The red line is the horizontal plane, and the yellow line runs from shoulder point to shoulder point. You can see how the right shoulder is noticably lower than the left. You may have never noticed this in yourself -- but take a closer look at what happens with a jacket that doesn't reflect that difference!

This jacket is a proper fit across the chest. That's important: for an alteration like this, the jacket should fit as well as possible otherwise. One that isn't the right size to start with will swallow this relatively minor problem up in much larger ones, as we'll see later. Here's the misfit: when the jacket is buttoned, the right side is pushed up, because it is trying to sit square across both shoulders. Since the right shoulder is low, the jacket will feel heavier and tighter on the left shoulder, and light on the right.

A jacket's collar should sit tight to the back of the neck at all times: that is the hallmark of good fit. Any misfit in the jacket will more often than not show up and make itself most readily apparent by gapping the collar. Here you can clearly see the collar gapping on the right hand side only, as the button pushes the lapel upwards and over the shoulder. This makes the lapel gape open, too, and the whole right side of the jacket feels loose and "off."

Now see what happens when we unbutton the jacket! The shoulder falls immediately into place, the lapels fit against the chest, and the jacket feels more comfortable overall. Notice that the extra fabric has to have somewhere to go, so the right side "falls away" at the bottom more than the left side does, and the right hem looks just barely longer.

Look at the neckline again: the collar gap has disappeared, and the right chest now fits as smoothly as the left. You may be temped to merely wear the jacket unbuttoned all the time, but this can be darned inconvenient. Unlike formal wear, casual jackets can and should be worn buttoned whenever the weather or your inclination dictates.

Take a closer look at the button-point and see what the fabric is doing. Because of the lower shoulder, the jacket is acting like the right side is physically longer than the left, and the button ends up lower than the buttonhole. If you were to take a line around the back of the jacket, as shown by the yellow arrow, you would notice it winds downhill in a slight spiral. The body of the jacket is acting like a tube that has been split open and slightly offset. Simply moving the buttons up slightly would do a world of good in the coat's fit.

It wouldn't be a perfect solution, though. Any correction that doesn't take into account where the fabric goes, only shifts the error from one part of the jacket to another part. To see how, let's look at a jacket's balance.

The balance of any coat is the relationship of the relative length of its front and back. A jacket that is too large will have a proportionately larger chest, which necessitates more fabric out in front to cover it. When worn buttoned, the extra fabric will pull the lapels up, the collar will gape open at the back, and the shoulders will be loose, and too far back. When unbuttoned, the neck will fall into place, but the fronts will fall away, and the jacket will billow out at the rear. Sound familiar? That's just what's happening with one half of this jacket; as if the right half is too long. Which, as we now know, is essentially correct. So we also know that the extra fabric in front will be thrown down and to the rear, as the red arrows show. That is the trade-off of this fix: the extra fabric at the neck when buttoned, is shifted to the vent, which is a much less noticable area. (It is also much easier to fix later by taking in the side seam a bit, but we will cover that in later weeks!)

The fix is simple. Cut the threads that retain the button.

Pull the cut threads out of the fabric, and smooth the fabric with your fingers until the holes are no longer visible. Easier to do with tweed than broadcloth, obviously.

Smooth the collar and lapels down, and put the fronts together where they should go. Mark the position of the buttonholes on the button side with horizontal marks made with tailor's chalk. (Tailor's chalk is very handy and cheap, and available at the sewing section of your neighborhood craft store...more on that next week.)

With the fronts still together, stick a pin through the buttonhole where the button will come through.

Take the fronts apart, and make a vertical mark where the pin is. Make a mark for the bottom button too, the same distance from the edge as the top button.

A line across the back, as before, now shows a straight line between the two points. The actual grain of the fabric is still on a slight spiral, but the degree of twist is so slight as to not be noticable by any but the closest scrutiny.
Re-attach the buttons at the marks. The jacket will now fit properly through the neck, whether buttoned or not, and the fall-away at the fronts will be minimal. The length of the hem and the height of the pockets will be different on left and right, but not noticeably so -- and this is a small price to pay for the much improved fit and ease of wear overall!

Which shoulder actually sits lower on you depends on the way you stand, of course; and the buttons can just as easily be moved down as up. Generally, right-handed people stand with their right shoulder slightly lower, but this isn't a hard-and-fast rule.

(If you don't know how to sew a button, there are many good Internet tutorials covering the sewing basics. Being handy with a needle will certainly be a help in the coming weeks of this series, but I will leave the basics for you to learn on your own; as the aforementioned tutorials can do a much better job of instruction at whatever particular level of expertise you require.) 

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Emmy or Isn't He?

(The first annual "Best Dressed Man at the Emmys" award)
Chapter 33
The Emmy Awards has come and gone, that multimillion-dollar orgy of smug self-congratulation for managing to fill the earth's airwaves for another year with show after show after show of mind-numbing sameness. Yay! With any luck, the aliens that have been monitoring our television transmissions since 1948 can't figure out the change to digital broadcasting, and will assume our society has imploded under the weight of its own dullness. Which wouldn't be that far off the mark, come to think of it.

But enough of that -- on to the clothes! No, not the dresses, we'll leave that to, well, everyone else. Here, the focus is on the masculine side of things. I've tortured myself on your behalf, watching hours of the Yearly Travesty, to bring you a representative sample of the good, the bad, the ugly, and worse, when it comes to Hollywood formal wear.

Seth Myers made the comment on the red carpet, that the "best dressed man doesn't look as good as the worst dressed woman," and that "no one wants to see the tuxes." Well, Seth, I would only add that you may be right, but only because most of the men all dressed so poorly. There were a very few instances of truly properly dressed gents, and yes, they were notable by their neat appearance.

The first thing to note, is that in contrast to the Tony awards, which I covered in a previous installment, the overall look was more trendy and far less classic. And the second thing to note, is that the further off-track from the classic tuxedo one deviates, the worse one looks. It was demonstrated here again and again.

As per the tradition here, the photos here were taken on the red carpet, before the ceremony, at the start of the evening -- so theoretically, the outfits are at their freshest, best, and least rumpled. The examples are given in natural light for the overall impression, and then I turn up the contrast, so we can study the details.

Let's start with the least painful examples, and gradually descend into the depths of sartorial Perdition; then I will give my ruling and present the Dress Like A Grown-Up! Award for Best-Dressed At The Emmys.

 I'll start out with Jim Parsons, for the simple reason that he was the only person in attendance wearing a waistcoat, as well as the only person wearing a batwing bow tie. The entire ensemble is inky black velvet, with silk covered buttons and peak lapels. The fit is spot-on: notice the width of the shoulders and the length of the sleeves.

Now let's turn up the contrast:

There are some errors here: you can see pulls across the chest of the jacket, as it strains against the button point. This jacket is designed to be worn open, and should be worn so. No fault of Jim's, but the jacket itself is cut too short; notice the stingy length of the hem. The jetted pockets, single button, lack of a breast pocket, and the high peaked hand stitched lapels tick all the right boxes. A longer hem would make it look a little less bottom-heavy, as would a bit more shaping to the chest...

Or would it? Wait for it.....

You can see how simply wearing the jacket open solves many of the apparent fit problems across the chest. The wrinkles and pulls fall out, the waist suppression falls into place, and the whole thing sits easier on him. Is it perfect? No -- I wouldn't have gone with velvet for the waistcoat and trousers, and Jim should have worn braces with his trousers: you can see the dreaded Flash of Shirt under the waistcoat. Still, he wins Runner-Up for Best Dressed of the night in my estimation, for the use of this classic cut with the waistcoat, instead of ditching it like everyone else did.

Next, let's look at Jeremy Piven. Jeremy frustrates me at these events: it's obvious he knows what formal wear is supposed to be, has very good taste, knows what looks good on him, and wears it well. He just always bends the rules too far. Here, the shoes are sharp, trouser length is perfect, sleeve length is perfect, shoulders are elegant and the overall silhouette is fantastic. So why would he ruin the effect with a long tie and unbuttoned collar?! Why, Jeremy, WHY?

Let's turn up the contrast and take a closer look at that jacket... 

The jacket is elegant and correct at all points -- just look at those grosgrain silk lapels! But having stepped right up to the line of perfection, Piven backed off with the hiphugger pants and awful tie. Just imagine this jacket with real pants, a matching grosgrain bow and cummerbund, with the jacket worn open! So close, Jeremy, so very, very close.

Oh, bee-tee-doubleyou: I'm fairly certain you had sufficient prior warning of this event to have scheduled a shave. Just sayin'.

I must say I expected better of Hugh Laurie. Proper formal wear is in the British DNA, after all. This looks a little awkward on him, which is surprising. You can immediately see his sleeves are too long, as are his trousers, and his shoes are some sort of grey suede. Let's look closer...

Here we see the problem. Although the overall length is correct, the three-button stance makes the fronts far too long for his already tall frame. Even though he (quite correctly) wears it at the second button, the lapels are rolling to the first. This gives a stubby lapel and that weird tube-shape to his silhouette. The shoulders are too wide as well. And notch lapels? Hugh, old bean, what were you thinking?

Jimmy Fallon, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. Most comedians go for shock and ridiculousness in their evening wear. Jimmy's tux was fitted and tailored well, and he wore a bow tie and very nice classic starched-collar shirt. The collar shape, although you can't see it in this picture, was perfect for him. Such things do matter.
He followed the trend (erroneously, I believe) of narrow notch lapels, low trousers and no vest or cummerbund; but it fit so well I could almost overlook that. Almost.
Will Arnett went similarly classic, but did Jimmy one better by going for the peak lapel.

Of a greater shock was LL Cool J, who, despite the silly hat, looked amazing. His trousers fit -- and do you notice the lack of shirt-flash under the jacket? Could this be a cummerbund in play?

Yes, there were minor style problems: it's a notch-lapel, and wearing a white tie is bending the black-tie rules just a little, and it is a button-two, and he is wearing it closed...BUT look at the fit, look at the lines!  See the shaping over the chest, and the cutaway of the fronts? Very well, done, L. (Can I call you L?)

One way to skirt the issue of trouser height without deferring to braces, cummerbunds, or waistcoats, is to simply employ the option of the double-breasted jacket. They are completely correct for evening wear, simply a more casual option. Let's look at the details of Jon Hamm's jacket.

This is a six-button-two, buttoned at the top button. Unlike single-breasted tuxedos, which should always be worn unbuttoned, a double-breasted jacket should always be worn buttoned like this. The shawl collar is perfect for the casual lines of this style, and notice the cuff at the wrist? A nice Edwardian touch. It may be the style of Mad Men rubbing off on him, but Jon got this outfit right in spades.

Topher Grace is also wearing a double-breasted model, in midnight blue, albeit with much less success. A hallmark of good formal wear is a generous expanse of shirtfront to just above the waist. The unbroken swath of black gives him the "I'm a funeral director" look, rather than a look that says "I'm at a gala party." Let's see why that is...

First, there's not nearly enough shirt showing. The long tie just covers too much. The lapels are a problem: they're rather broad and awkwardly shaped. The button stance is too tall, the waist point is too high, and it's the wrong size -- it hangs from the lapels and drags forward. Good effort, but it's a swing and a miss. Back to the dugout for you.

These next few guys are examples of a disturbing fashion trend. I won't even bother to show these in natural light, but we'll jump straight to the high-contrast. You've seen one, you've seen them all...

Chris Colfer was the worst offender. The jacket is horrid, short and shapeless, with wee little tiny lapels. The skinny little tie and skinny little trousers just give the effect of some kinda grotesque, Tim Burtonesque marionette.

Colfer may be excused for just following blind fashion labels, he's young enough to not know any better, although some one should really have told him he looks like an idiot.

Not so Rainn Wilson; he's too old to dress like this. The sad little lapels and tiny bow tie make him look like he's a bobblehead trying to squeeze into Pee-Wee Herman's tux. There's no elegance here, nor drape, nor shape, nor anything that gives a tuxedo its sense of easy elegance. Like Colfer, he looks uncomfortable just having to wear it.

Blues Brother or Man In Black? Wilmer Valderrama does know better than this; he should be ashamed for blatantly following such a cheesy fashion trend. Itsy-bitsy lapels and skinny tie notwithstanding, it's not even a tux, just a black suit...and he's showing way too much bling for a formal affair anyhow.

And we continue our slide, ever downward into the quicksand of inexplicable sartorial choices.

Ian Somerhalder is a poster-boy illustration of what goes horribly wrong when an Average Guy tries to do formal without any real knowledge of what he is doing. Perhaps his handler shoved this tux in his hands, and he was told to wear it. Maybe he had to get someone else to tie his tie. Maybe no one told him that perhaps a haircut and wash would make him look like less of a douchebag. Regardless of any of this, here he stands, a loathsome smarmy grin on his face, agonizingly self-aware of how good he thinks he looks.

And here's the train wreck. Nina Dobrev obviously took a little bit of care with her appearance. Contrast that with the slouchy, I'm-here-with-my-mommy posture, lank hair, askew tie, hands jammed in his pockets, pants around his hips, and that same Bell's-Palsy-grin. Absolutely shameful: this could be the drawing in my very first post, illustrating the disparity in maturity of "adult little boys" who don't dress like grownups.

The puzzle that is Ian complexifies a bit in high-contrast, for here we can see that his jacket is, in fact, very, very nice! Jetted pockets, shawl lapels, and very well shaped and proportioned, from the shoulders right down to the hem. And notice the link-front buttons! What we have here, then, isn't a bad outfit -- merely the complete inability to wear it. If he had completed the outfit, whether by cummerbund or vest, tied his tie better, and worn the jacket opened, this would have been a very nice outfit. Too bad his acting experience hasn't yet extended to displaying elegance. Or insouciance.

Jon Cryer: Leather lapels? Really? Really?

Steve Buscemi: tall and thin, he is the ideal build for a tuxedo. He should be able to pull of a fitted, broad-chested look that is classic and elegant. So why, why does he always look like a Goth scarecrow? Scorcese, who is built like a fire hydrant, wears a tux so much better. Of course, he comes from an era when guys knew how to wear tuxes.

This next group is so wrong, they don't even deserve the high-contrast studies. A glance shows their errors in stark relief.

Michael Pitt, who is channeling either Hamlet, Johnny Cash, Anakin Skywalker, or a kabuki puppeteer. His date has apparently killed an emu in the parking lot for a snack later.

Oh, my, Joel McHale has stolen a tux from a twelve-year old, and is wearing it inside-out! Oh, the humanity! Oh, the humiliation!

Alan Cumming has apparently gone insane again. His sleeves are far too long, his lapels aren't silk lined, and, although he IS wearing a proper cummerbund, the odd square-cut fronts of his jacket and low button position are a little outre for this venue.

And, oh yes...the geisha pants.

Seal shows more cleavage than Heidi. I need say no more.

There are more -- many more -- examples with which I may scorch your retinas, but I will force myself to stop just shy of the Worst Dressed Attendee. Instead, I shall reverse course, and end on a high note.
And that high note, is the First Annual Dress Like A Grown-Up Best-Dressed Guy At The Emmys, who I award to...

David Boreanaz.

The tux is absolutely classic. The details are all there: the perfect amount of pocket square showing, the bow tie of ideal proportion, the shirt collar crisp and starched. There is not a hint of shirt showing under the jacket. And most importantly, he wears the tux; the tux does not wear him. He strikes the casually elegant ideal; dressed perfectly and seemingly effortlessly.

The jacket is deepest midnight blue, with shawl collar and jetted pockets. The only deviation from classic standard is that the silk facing doesn't run all the way to the edge of the lapels. The length, proportions, and size are all spot-on -- length, button-point, sleeves, shoulders, chest shaping, are just what and where they should be. In short, all the areas where others have failed by changing the proportion, he triumphs by preserving them.

Is it perfect? No...It should still have been worn unbuttoned and with a cummerbund, but without one, buttoning is the next best thing. The tie knot is a little small to my eyes: one a bit more substantial would have looked nice.

Congratulations, David...Seth Meyers may not be looking at the tuxes, but your sartorial insight did not go unnoticed in this little corner of the interweb.

So what have we learned from the parade of black suits on the red carpet?

One, the going fashion aberration is tiny little lapels, short jackets, and hiphugger pants, the silhouette that of a boy who has outgrown his childhood coat but continues wearing it...

Two: no one knows dinner jackets are supposed to be worn unbuttoned, or that your shirt is only supposed to be seen as far as the jacket's button point, arrested by a cummerbund or waistcoat. A bit of shirt showing under those short jackets is thus the sad standard.

Third: designer labels mean nothing. I don't care if your tux was designed by John St. Ugliè. I would respect you more if you said your tux was made by a 90 year old man I've never heard of, who works in a basement in an alley of Jermyn St., and it took him eight months of stitching by hand to make it.

And finally, fourth: there's no excuse for these blazingly rich Hollywood darlings to not have fitted, bespoke classic tuxedos. They have mountains of cash to spend on jets to Savile Row for multiple fittings, and a highly public lifestyle to make such purchases a wise investment.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Spicy Tie Recipes

Chapter 32
You know, you can't hit the ball out of the park every inning.
(Hmm...I wonder what the cricketer's version is? "You can't always score six runs a knock," probably.)
True in sports, true in great literature. After an extended run of hard-hitting, award-winning, world-class bloggy journalistic installments, you've got to expect the occasional bit of fluff.

And fluff we have, for most of my week was spent collating old posts that will be distilled into my new book.

Book, you say?

That's right, sky troopers: Dress Like A Grown-up! A Complete Tutorial for the Average Guy, Vol. 1, is in the pipeline, and should hit the virtual cyberspace bookshelves in a few weeks. It's based on the series you've read here, but with more information; and in a different format. Makes a great gift, &c., and there'll be enough new stuff inside to justify paying money for the privilege of owning an ink-and-paper version of what you can read here for free. (Also with proper spelling. If there's one thing editing a book has shewn me, it's that I really have to start paying more attention to my spell-check.)

The future weeks here in my corner of the blogosphere are chock-full of plans for extended coverage on tailoring and alterations, awards snarkiness, Famous Men Dressing Poorly, and other interesting things, up 'til 2012 and beyond. This week, though, is light entertainment.

For this week, I bring you...the TIE.

We haven't done a lot of tie-centric discussions, for some reason. A lot about Classic style, suits, and such...but no ties. Much of this has to do with the seasons: My concentration, you've noticed, has been a demonstration of the possibilities for Spring and Summer wear that give tie alternatives. (Extra points for you if you had actually realized that!) But as the weather gets crispier, the reasons for NOT wearing a tie dwindle to nil.

The evolution of the tie echoes the evolution of the suit as we know it today. The cravats and stocks of seventeenth century fashions were largely replaced, by 1840, of what we would recognize today as bow ties and long ties. And in the upcoming months, rest assured we will cover that history in depth...but for now, we'll distill it down to just a taste.

Ties of all sorts had been disparaged greatly in the past decade; but have recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Most notable is the renaissance of interest in the bow tie.

Today, the tie wearer has a number of options from which to choose:

The long tie, of course, is the form of tie with which everyone is familiar. In use since the 1840s, it is commonly recognized as a simplified and trimmed-down form of the cravat, which had been in use since at least 1622. The length and width of the tie changes widely over time, as does the preference for color and pattern: for example, immediately postwar, ties were very broad, short, and florid -- a scant fifteen years later, they became very long, narrow, and plain. Currently, we're happily in the stylistic sweet-spot, tiewise, of a width of about 3½ inches.

Mathematically, there are 85 different ways to tie a long tie; and of these, about a dozen, give or take, are in common enough use to have names. Physicist Thomas Fink compiled the definitive catalog of tie derivations.  You should have a knowledge of at least these three styles that you can tie from memory: the Four-in-Hand, the Shelby, and the Half-Windsor. It is very useful to have at least a passing knowledge of the Christensen, Kelvin and cross Kelvin, full Windsor, and Hanover, as well. Different knots can give the same tie a very different appearance. The size and shape of your collar, to a certain extent, also dictates the shape of your tie knot; as the two must coordinate. I won't go into the details of the different knots yet, simply because Dr. Fink has done such a thorough and exemplary job first; and as I said earlier, this week is light entertainment. You need to save his page to your favorites list and read it sometime, though. Think of it as extracurricular research. 

The ascot, as used today, is a cravat in form, but somewhat different from the traditional cravat of the previous century. Most often it is reserved for wedding use when a more formal alternative to a long tie is needed. Black tie is evening wear -- the cravat is its daytime formal parallel. It is most usually constructed like a long tie, but with very wide, paddle-shaped ends of equal size, and the middle portion is gathered and pleated to fit under the collar. More traditional still is the cravat that is a simple rectangle, that must be hand-pleated and folded before it is tied. The cravat may be tied with a loose four-in-hand knot, secured with a tie pin, and must always be worn under a waistcoat. Alternatively, it can be tied like a bow tie with the loops pulled completely through, the ends crossed over the knot, and secured with a tie pin.

The day cravat or foulard, (often incorrectly called an ascot) is a less-formal form of cravat that is usually worn under an open collar. The usefulness of this form of tie can not be overestimated, and can be worn in many casual settings, year 'round. Day cravats can be thick and fully lined, or of the thinnest, breeziest madras. They can be constructed similarly to ascots, albeit with a middle portion that is wider, and pleated deeper, than their formal brothers. They can also be fashioned quite well from rectangular scarves. The great benefits of a day cravat are the visual bulk given to the upper chest, and the interest of color that a tie affords, without the distraction of a long tie flapping around. It also looks much more casual and informal than wearing a tie, but not as sloppy as wearing no neckwear at all.

As previous installments have shown, a day cravat doesn't have to be worn under a collared shirt: it is often worn with a polo shirt, or crewneck shirt paired with a jacket. The summertime resort style of a jacket sans shirt, worn with a scarf used as a foulard to cover the chest, has also been mentioned here. It is a very versatile piece of clothing.

Day cravats are tied most commonly in an Onassis knot, which is simply a Four-in-Hand where the tie end cascades over the knot. A day cravat can even be converted from a standard long tie in a pinch, by simply unstitching and unfolding the lower six inches or so, and knotting it close to the wide end.

The bow tie, as I mentioned, is gaining in popularity, and for more than just formalwear. It's tidy size and small profile compared to a long tie is instantly discovered to be more convenient and compact. You can tie it in the morning and forget it is there, since you're not constantly reminded of its presence by its constantly getting in your way. It frames the face well, and doesn't obstruct your shirt front. It is cooler in the summer. It is also more easily worn without a jacket than a long tie. You may have noticed that a long tie without a jacket or waistcoat to restrain it, looks out of place and somewhat awkward. Not so the bow tie: it, of all the varieties of neckwear, is best suited to wearing in shirtsleeves.

There are two ways to tie a bow tie. Many people find tying a bow tie confusing, so I've made up the best, simplest, and clearest graphics ever for you. Both halves, front and back, are clearly (and cleverly) color-coded: it's so clear there is no need for any written explanation. Both are shown reversed, so this is what you would see in a mirror.

The most common method is to leave the left end a little lower than the right end, wind the first leaf around the knot, and tuck the second leaf behind the first.

The second method is a bit simpler, easier, and quicker. You leave the right end much longer than the left, pull up the leaf first, wind the knot around it, and tuck the second leaf in front of the first.

There are a distinct benefits to each style: the first, which you will notice is tied rather like a shoelace, works best with thinly lined ties with pronounced butterfly shapes. It builds up a bigger knot, and "locks" the leaves firmly in place for a secure tie.

The second is well-suited to thicker ties with subtle shaping or wider straps. Since it is tied essentially in a slipknot, the knot is less bulky, and it is easier to vary the length of the leaves, the height of the knot, and the degree of pinch. It can also be worn loosened, which can be a great benefit in certain situations.

Both knots release easily by tugging on the ends, and it is well worth knowing how to tie both.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Go Out and Play

Chapter 31
Labor day has come and gone, and we find ourselves at the turning of the seasons at last. Your aloha shirts, white trousers, boat shoes, and spectators have hopefully been retired by now, awaiting the heat of next summer. Homecoming formals and autumn half-terms loom ahead for the students, and, after an exploding blaze of fall foliage, the long grim greyness of winter.

But between the oppressive melting heat and the oppressive bitter cold, a wonderful season, short though it is, unfolds to us. A season that beckons us to the great outdoors: fresh air, clear skies, and pleasant breezes that call to us as they did when we were children, and beg to be played in. Sports like golf, tennis, bocce, cricket, baseball, badminton, croquet, bowls; or less organized activities like hunting, fishing, camping, or riding -- these are the months for recreation.

Those who do not dress like grown-ups deal with the weather by layering their tee-shirts with sweatshirts, hoodies, windbreakers, or some sort of fleecy or flannelly barn jacket. But there are other options -- ones that are easy, cheap, and painless, and take absolutely no more attention or care than the kiddie clothes just mentioned.

Let's look at some historical options to deal with the early Autumn weather and outdoor activities, while remaining Dressed Like a Grown-Up.

Don't keep a windbreaker jacket by the front door as the standby when you hit the great outdoors -- just grab a sportcoat instead! You will instantly look more dashing and better turned-out. Can it be this easy, you ask? Absolutely. Let's take a few examples. These illustrations are from Esquire magazine from the mid-30s, but their elegance translates into the twenty-first century equally well.

This couple of fellows is a perfect example for you. Today, these guys would most likely be wearing hoodies, Levis, and Sketchers. Notice the tremendous difference in elegance that can be afforded by simply ditching the hoodie, and pulling on a jacket instead. The guy on the right wears a rough brown tweed jacket with patch pockets and wood buttons, the collar turned up against the breeze. Substitute denim for his cream colored wool flannel, Sketchers for his rubber-soled suede bluchers, and the transformation is complete. The guy on the left takes this look one step further, wearing a matching double-breasted suit of grey wool flannel, and monkstrap suede shoes. If this was white cotton or seersucker it would be too summery a fabric for this late in the year, but grey flannel fits right in with the season.

These looks aren't overdressed or stuffy looking, contrary to what many would associate with wearing a jacket, because both outfits are worn with crewneck short-sleeve shirts! The brown-jacketed fellow wears a Madras square scarf over top of his shirt, his grey-jacketed pal wears a white scarf under his shirt. Both options illustrate an important point: it is quite correct to pair a jacket with just a tee-shirt underneath, but a scarf tied as a day cravat is the required accessory.

If the scarf contrivance is a little beyond your ken, and in modern times it isn't a look that many can pull of effortlessly, it can be circumvented by wearing a shirt with a collar, or a high neckline. This gent is kitted out for a round of golf, but the look is universal. His grey flannel trousers are matched with a blue mock turtleneck and a black-and-white houndstooth jacket. The sporty border-checked cap and calfskin gloves should be waived if you aren't on the links, but the outfit otherwise works well. Traditional golf wear has been toned down in recent decades, but there's no reason a golf shirt or polo shirt can't be paired with an odd jacket like this one equally well, and worn anywhere, for a sporty autumn look.

The good thing about sporting clothes is that they come with a long tradition of what is historically correct and what isn't. If you're out to play some tennis, for instance, this traditional outfit looks much more correct than the usual kiddy clothes. From the waist up, he's dressed for around town, as well: by merely adding trousers of, say, grey flannel, and some real shoes, we have a sporty-casual look that is just right for the season. As for his friend in the suit, it's certainly a sharp look, if a bit more formal: what makes it outstanding for fall is the inclusion of some autumn colors -- his green flannel trilby hat and tan shirt -- to an otherwise monochromatic ensemble.

By taking that same green trilby hat and tan shirt, his look can be rusticated and sportified, by adding a sporty Norfolk jacket and checked flannel trousers. Not many associate a jacket, vest, and tie with casual sportiness, but notice that is indeed the impression given by this sweater vest and bow tie.

So make an effort in the next few weeks, before the weather turns to the need for heavy coats and outerwear, to augment your everyday outdoor wear with a sporty selection of sportcoats, tweeds, flannels, or woolens. Keep one by the front door, on standby. Instead of the windbreaker, reach for the sport coat. You'll be glad you did!