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Articles

The Armoury

Kamau Hosten

In the face of mounting competition from large department stores, and fashion brands with big advertising budgets, the local tailor and menswear haberdashery has undoubtedly lost valuable real estate, though not its cachet. The recent expansion of one Hong Kong outpost, The Armoury, into New York City is a welcome  reprieve, given the trend.

 

As a new New Yorker, I've continued my adventures exploring menswear shops around the city. I'd previously only read of this shop. The first U.S. outpost opened a few months ago in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City. Revered among menswear enthusiasts for offering handmade clothing, Goodyear welted shoes (Saint Crispin'sCarmina) and accessories from smaller brands (Fox UmbrellasDrake's ties and scarves), The Armoury is one of the few shops that gets it right. It is a quietly masculine shop that prides itself on the quality of its garments.

 

Understated yet inviting, the approach is decidedly classic; both in the exterior representation and interior inventory. Here the emphasis is on the superior construction and fit. A well-informed, unobtrusive, yet passionate staff, makes a visit to The Armoury a necessity.

 

During my visit,  staff members were discussing, of all things, which band they would all join, given the choice. Without hesitation, I was asked to name mine. To which I readily replied, “I'd jam with Thelonious Monk." Given the opportunity, plus, of course, some form of musical ability. That was met with nodding approval, I might add. When the discussion moved toward clothing, the gentlemen were more than accommodating, enthusiastically answering my questions and showing me merchandise. It was clear, they were just as keen on educating me, more so than selling.

 

The clothing simply speaks. For example: A pair of trousers from Ambrosi Napoli, run by Salvatore Ambrosi, caught my attention. At the mere mention, Jeff went upstairs, got a pair and proceeded to educate me about details like the hand finishing both inside and outside, as well as the various fabric options. It didn't seem to matter whether I was interested in purchasing the trousers!

The inventory include jackets and suits by Orazio Luciano, Ring Jackets and Liverano & Liverano and spread collar dress shirts by Ascot Chang.

 

Many of the vendors mentioned travel to the shop for trunk shows throughout the year, where they can meet clients and fit them for bespoke or made to order goods. I poked around the shoes area, with a pair of Carmina brown suede captoe oxfords and suede loafers the most memorable.


The shop has risen in recognition, in part to social media. Founders, Mark Cho, Alan See and Ethan Newton reguarly are  seen photographed during Pitti Uomo. All three have extensive backgrounds in menswear. Additionally, the daily Tumblr and Instagram feeds of the founders, feature new products and genuinely brilliant pairings. All three have a distinct personal style, each just as inspiring as the other.

While there's certainly no shortage of places to purchase men's clothing in New York, finding a balance of merchandise made to the highest standards with a well educated staff isn't so common. The Armoury strikes that balance nicely.

Neutralize With a Basic

Kamau Hosten

To be clear, blue, burgundy and grey is no revolutionary pairing of tones. Quite the opposite, as each color pairs with one or a combination of the other two.  Grey suits, especially those in more pale tones, always strike a pleasing balance when worn with shoes in the burgundy/cordovan/merlot/aubergine family. Likewise, the same can be said of a blue suit in a shade slightly lighter than navy. As an aside, two years later and I'm still not certain what color this Suit Supply double breasted is below.

What may be underrated is the choice of hosiery, or sock, for the less pretentious. Men are inundated with imagery from fashion magazines telling them to amp up their sock game, that solids are dull. To counter this, the stuffy, rubric obsessed internet style gestapo insist that socks must coordinate precisely with trousers. No need to go full on bold or entirely dull though. I believe it was Glenn O'Brien who dictated that socks should match one's personality and not any specific component of one's attire. If it wasn't Mr. O'Brien, then it should be.

OTC socks by Brioni, monk straps by Sergio Rossi

I was pleased with the result of a patterned grey sock paired with an almost royal blue suit (see, still trying to place this color) and burgundy single monk straps recently. The shade of blue was not entirely business, which complimented the more jaunty nature of the shoe. The grey sock neither coordinated nor picked up any other colors of the day, yet it provided a nice harmony.

Suit by Suit Supply

I find myself over thinking the minute details, only to reach for a basic at the last moment. This day was no different. A sock in burgundy, blue or green (the color of the day's necktie) would have proved too obvious and less creative.

Shirt by Kamakura, tie by Polo Ralph Lauren, Fleur de lis pin by By Elias, pocket square by Bergdorf Goodman

 

A fun sock needn't be multi-striped or whimsical, so long as it is complimentary. Grey neutralizes the high shine of the shoe and the tone of suit.

Buying a Hat

Kamau Hosten

Despite a trend towards mixing high and low articles of clothing, there is something to be said about harmony and consistency in place of trendy. This is especially true as we properly usher in Autumn 2014. Soon enough, it will be cool enough for topcoats and hats. While the importance of keeping one's head covered is not debatable, the choices are. Flatcaps, knit hats, driving hats and fedoras are all options utilized by the savvy and just plain freezing. Fashion magazines, who must introduce something new to the readers, dictate that knit hats, for instance, dress down a more formal overcoat. If it comes down to formality versus casual, put me on the formal side, every time. No knit hat, no flatcap, no baseball cap with your overcoat. A proper gentleman's hat to top off the look is in order to achieve adequate harmony.

Hat by Selentino, glasses by Tom Ford

My own hunt truly began years before I'd have to brave frosty elements. Growing up watching the screen stars of the 1950s, the elegance of the fedora atop an immaculately attired Spencer Tracy in Adam's Rib stayed with me. Although hats are not the dominant accessory they were 60 years ago, they're just as dashing today, even more so due to the countless inappropriate and just plain tacky head coverings seen on men with otherwise appropriate outerwear.

I had read about JJ Hat Center, a New York institution for over a century, years before I moved here. As I'd recently decided on purchasing a hat, I headed to their Fifth Avenue shop.

Chatting with staff at JJ Hat Center with a hat that ended up back on the wall. Shirt by Kamakura, tie by Brioni, pocket square by Ikire Jones. Photo by Bevin Elias

The staff, all enormously knowledgable and passionate, educated me about finding the right brim (sides of the hat)  width for my face, the correct crown (the top of the hat) for the shape of my head and the best shade for a first purchase.

My new hat being steamed

Blue, brown and grey were the suggestions, which are in line with the rest of menswear articles of clothing, as the most versatile. After trying on several in shades ranging from camel to charcoal, I settled on a deep brown fedora by Selentino. This will top off both my blueish/grey double breasted overcoat and my grey herringbone topcoat for the upcoming winter very nicely.

Hat by Selentino, Jacket by Loro Piana, scarf by Etro, trousers by Brioni, monk strap shoes by Howard Yount, canvas bag by Want Les Essentiels de la Vie, socks by Paul Stuart

- As per the staff, before buying one, consider your own wardrobe. What will you likely be wearing this with? Does your wardrobe lean towards a casual or formal?

- Although there are a plethora of hatsellers online, it's best to visit a shop to try them on if you're a first time buyer or new to a manufacturer.

- While shades of deep, bottle green or burgundy may be eye catching, they're also less versatile. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement. Stay (somewhat) grounded.

All Photos by Stephen Obisanya unless otherwise noted

A Visit to Flame Keepers Hat Club

Kamau Hosten

On the brief train ride from midtown Manhattan to Harlem's west side, I took note of my fellow passengers; three knit hats and two baseball caps. Not shockingly, there was not a fedora topped head in the car.  However, as I strolled the five blocks from the station to my destination, I scrolled Tumblr, and took note of the contrary.  This generation has, in recent years, experienced a resurgent interest in what is considered classic men's clothing, eschewing the one-size-too-slim designer trends of a decade ago or the wave of three-size-too-large everything of the late 1990s. The fedora, that final touch of gentility seems to be gaining popularity among the previously hesitant, due in no small part to links of the generation.

The unassuming facade of my destination, Flame Keepers Hat Club, would trick the casual passerby into believing what was on the other side of the wall was just as understated. Aside from muted wooden floors and pale grey brick walls, accented by a lone magenta wall, the shop is resplendent with fedoras in hues of burgundy and hunter green, flap caps in speckled tweeds and herringbone.

 

Walking into the two-month old shop on West 121st Street, I was greeted by its genial proprietor, Marc Williamson, himself a 22-year veteran of New York's JJ Hat Center. Williamson was steaming and brushing a new stock of hats to be soon displayed when I asked what's the response been to his new shop.

"It's all been going very well. I will not complain," said Williamson, who at this point had taken the hat I wore into the shop and gave it a brush and steam.

Flame Keepers owner, Marc Williamson, steams a fedora

Social media has played a significant role in the shop's promotion thus far. Before the Instgram snaps of clients, however, there was a trying, year-long process to find a good enough space for the shop. After a back and forth with building owners, Williamson settled on the location, which sits at the corner of Frederick Douglas Boulevard, among Harlem's major arteries. The area is experiencing what the New York Times described resurgence in development. Williamson, a lifelong New Yorker, by way of Woodside, Queens, felt a particular kinship in Harlem.

 

"It's a great sense of community here," noted Williamson as two locals entered the shop. The two customers, one in a tan Stetson, browsed around the shop, trying on varieties and chatting with the obliging owner about hats. With a necessary style still to come in stock, the gentlemen left, with one shouting from the door that he lives across the street and would return later.

 

"You see," said Williamson, regarding the serendipitous encounter. "We have those discussions about hats all the time." The 'We' Williamson refers to is not entirely the fedora-topped gentleman depicted in the old Apparel Arts illustrations, rather it's everyone from the twenty-something Brooklynite, just getting into his first hat to the octogenarian, lifelong Harlem resident who may have very well observed speeches by Malcolm X or recall the sermons of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.

 

In that respect lies that idea, the concept, the core mission of Flame Keepers; continuity.

"We're passing the torch of good taste from one generation to the next, " said Williamson about the inspiration for the name of the shop.

"Good taste is a range of things; it's how your treat people. It's how you present yourself. That's what we're trying to do here."

For Williamson, taste transcends any garment, rather it's more abstract. It's spirit, a way of behaving and carrying yourself.  Does a hat achieve that? Perhaps not solely, but it's a stylish beginning.

 

Beyond the abstract to the tangible. A hat just looks damned good. There is not a more appropriate way to dress one's head than a proper hat. A knit or baseball cap often looks juvenile when paired with business formal clothing, while a headless pedestrian complete with heavy coat and scarf looks forgetful and cold.

Some men may believe they're not the hat-wearing sort but, that must be due to not trying. Visit the shop and Williamson will make suggestions on color, crown shape and brim width, all to best complement the shape of the wearers face.

Visit

Flame Keepers Hat Club

273 West 12st Street, New York, NY 10027

212-531-FKHC (3542)

 

Photos by Bevin Elias

 

 

The One Off Piece

Kamau Hosten

Personal style has everything to do with what you, the individual, seeks to project through your clothing. It has little (nothing, hopefully) to do with what's 'on trend', what fashion magazines dictate, what a blogger's epiphanies of the moment may be, and damn sure not what the guy with 100,000 Instagram followers has on. Rather, it's reflection on your own experiences, travels, and received knowledge. That's why it is even more crucial to put a personal stamp that defies the arbitrary mandates of #menswear, many of which I've blabbed on about here.

One of my favorites pieces is a green paisley scarf that belonged to my grandmother. There's no fabricated tale about her handing me the scarf over in ritualistic fashion. Rather, I found it in a drawer and just kinda took it. It is a splendid combination, resplendent in deep, huntery green, royal blue and a muted yellow than teeters on gold. I took it, believing one day I'd be ready (have the balls) to wear it proudly.

Jacket by Hardy Amies, shirt by Kamakura, tie and trousers by Brioni, 'Land of the Hummingbirds' pin by By Elias, umbrella by Kent Wang, O'Hare tote by Want Les Essentiels de la Vie

Jacket by Hardy Amies, shirt by Kamakura, tie and trousers by Brioni, 'Land of the Hummingbirds' pin by By Elias, umbrella by Kent Wang, O'Hare tote by Want Les Essentiels de la Vie

That day came rather unassumingly. I pulled it out of a drawer and tied it around my neck and strutted out of my apartment. And, as any self-absorbed twenty-something, I predicted a rainfall of stares, mockery and false benevolence reminiscent of the emperor's walk about town in his new suit. None of the imagined reactions occurred, of course. I've been wearing it ever since.

I don't know the back story about it. I never saw her wear it. But it was a hers, and that's personal enough. Of course it helps that it is simply a beautiful scarf. One that doesn't necessarily go with what I'm wearing, but that's the essence of personal style. A sort of middle finger to the rather arcane guidelines many men fuss too much over.

 

Photos by Bevin Elias

Essential: The Suede Captoe

Kamau Hosten

 Outside of formal occasions, there's no instance where the brown suede captoe is unwelcome. Either the more casual blucher or the dressier balmoral, the shoe lends a casual appeal to an ensemble. According to Alan Flusser, the suede lace-up owes its popularity to the Duke of Windsor. Duke of Windsor, then Prince of Wales, reportedly visited the U.S. wearing a reverse calf shoe. I imagine it began as something to go with the distinct look of English country wear: heavy tweeds in brown and camel. Either way, it caught on and has been a staple of well-dressed men since.

Trousers and socks by Brioni, shoes by Carmina

Trousers and socks by Brioni, shoes by Carmina

It's a nice alternative to a polished calf dress shoe when paired with suits in varying weights. When the shine contrasts too greatly with subdued textures, enter the suede.

It's essential due to it's versatility; a truly year-round shoe, it can be paired with linen suits in shades of tan, varying blues and gray as well as heavier chinos in rust and deep burgundy.

 

 

 

 

The Alden Loafer

Kamau Hosten

Classics can't be ignored. Despite the rather limited offerings of truly timeless pieces in major department stores, some pieces still manage to gain, or regain, popularity. The tasseled loafer has long been an American classic. Companies like Alden and Allen Edmonds have been producing them, in the USA, for decades now. They've recently been featured in men's magazines and in runway shows, but in more design-centric versions. Nothing beats a trend like the original, though.

Chinos by Uniqlo, Loafers by Alden

Chinos by Uniqlo, Loafers by Alden

Its critics decry the shape as dated and reduce its wearer to the 50+ demographic. Design houses may claim to update the traditional shape, yet it needs no such adjustment. In truth, a flawless, well constructed shoe, knows no age limit or requirement.

Enter the Alden Suede Moccasin. It's a classic shape; the toe is neither too pointy or too rounded. Now, it may seem bulky, especially compared against it's European counterparts, but after a few outings, I can report no difference between it and my thinner Ferragamo loafers.

Its appeal lies in its simplicity and versatility. Tassels provide the only visual detail, while the suede adds an elegantly textural appeal.

The shoe, however, lends itself to a number of wardrobe choices. This being July in Miami, a linen suit sprints to my mind. Now, the guys at Pitti Uomo can do no wrong, but no one lives on those streets the rest of the year. The cuffed and cropped trouser may not work everywhere. What will work is a slight taper of the trousers, so they sit atop the loafer just so. The flopping movement of billowy pants rarely flatters anyone. The rich chocolate brown shade translates just as well to heavier fabrics, like corduroy and tweed, but that's a post for December.

I looked at several versions before taking the plunge with Alden. Its simple design, incredible craftsmanship and history won me over. Several well-known brands offered decent looking loafers, but the quality didn't seem to be there. The Goodyear Welt, explained here is a method of construction which essentially extends the potential life of the shoe. Another crucial question to ask is, do you want a shoe from a fashion design house or a shoe from a shoemaker? The latter has perfected his craft, while the former changes it altogether every six months.

The Burgundy Shoe

Kamau Hosten

Letter from a reader:

Good day sir,

First let me start by saying I'm a huge fan of your blog and style (that's putting it mildly, as I've learned so much from you)
I recently purchased a pair of burgundy wingtips and wanted your opinion. I noticed that not many gents wear the burgundy wingtip and wanted to know if this shoe is still viewed as a staple in every gents closet, such as the double monk and cap toe dress shoe. 
I have a beautiful linen suit that was given to me, and I'm afraid unlike my other suits, I have the slightest idea of how line should be tailored. Before I visit my tailor I wanted to be sure of what I wanted in regards to the fit. Linen is a bit different for me. I've owned linen pants but never a suit. That takes things to a whole new level of questions (what shoe, types of ties etc)
Again I appreciate and value your opinion highly.

Thank you for your time,

Gerald

Gerald, I like the idea of the burgundy wingtips. While true cordovan is much more difficult to come by, shoes in oxblood and burgundy have the same effect and are much easier on the wallet. For men of style, yes, it's certainly a staple. I love the richness of the dark reddish tones beneath a navy or medium grey suit.

Trousers by Suit Supply, Socks by Brioni, Shoes by Sergio Rossi

Trousers by Suit Supply, Socks by Brioni, Shoes by Sergio Rossi

It's a pleasant alternative to the black and dark brown shoes that most men likely stick to. While it should be a staple, it's best for it to be purchased after the basics, as it's less versatile.

For linen suits, I've had them tailored similarly to worsteds. Though not as tapered. I like the lack of structure and the summery feel of linen. It shouldn't feel too snug, much like any suit. I prefer the trouser slightly tapered with a cuff and linen tends to sway when I walk, and it just bothers the hell out of me. Though when your tailor sees you in it, he has the most trained eye and can give you the best suggestion.

As far as shoes, I like suede loafers; with or without tassels.

Additionally, lighter calf split toe lace ups or derbies continue the casual nature of a linen suit. What's also crucial about linen is to embrace the wrinkles. I've heard the argument against linen too many times: "It's gonna wrinkle too much." That's fine, let nature take its course. It looks better; more lived in.

Blue Suede Monk Strap

Kamau Hosten

Brown and black shoes are the accepted choices for the foundation of a man's footwear selection. With good reason; both will pair nicely with a range of suits and odd trousers. Black with charcoal, navy and black and brown with just about every other option. Following a substantial collection of said basics, a rakish option is next. The blue suede monk is remarkable choice. With a relatively classic styling, the texture and color announces the wearer's confidence and, lack of convention. Chances are strong you'll be the only person in your circle wearing them, unless you're positioned outside the shows of the upcoming Pitti Uomo.

Shoes by Brioni

The monk strap is already a jaunty choice for those bored with oxfords and derbies. Though it's technically a notch down on the formality level for some, it's certainly welcome in a room full of laces. In black or brown calf, the monk has emerged as  smart alternative. For more substantial fabrics like donegal tweed or flannel, the suede monk, in chocolate or snuff  suede, compliments the more rugged texture of the trousers or suit. Add to that another element of, "And, what?" with the blue suede and you've about rendered the onlookers speechless.

With a shoe that's so attention-grabbing, the rest of the fit should be relatively restrained. I mean, you're wearing blue suede monks, so you kind of want them to be seen. Pale grey suits and trousers work best, to my mind. Such options offer a subdued contrast to the vibrant texture and color. The shoe may fade into navy trousers too much, though jeans are a decent option. Beige or light brown flannel would also highlight the shoe.

It's not for those wanting to blend it. To be clear, this is a shoe that will turn some heads.

Exotic Skins

Kamau Hosten

Upon acquiring the basic #menswear shoes; the brown cap-toe, the tassel loafer, a man is afforded the opportunity to incorporate the non-workhorse shoes in his rotation. Those just mentioned essentials make up the bulk of a well dressed man's wardrobe. In plain calf or suede, shoes in a fairly conservative cut are appropriate for most business and evening occasions. Following a good selection of versatile shoes, a man can throw an unexpected twist into the mix. A shoe that turns a few heads is in order. Like this crocodile cap-toe oxford.

Enter the shoe made of exotic skin: alligator, crocodile, or lizard among many others. When found, or made to order, on a fairly classic last, this shoe can add a subtle sheen to an otherwise understated suit or pair of trousers. In muted colors like black, brown and burgundy, the exotic shoe also adds just enough textural appeal without being too showy. It also suggests the wearers affinity for all things finely crafted, as exotic skins don't come cheap.

Now, it's not for the faint-minded man. Should you wish to remain anonymous, a shoe made of an exotic skin isn't for you. The shoe, be it a cap-toe, monk strap of loafer, will garner attention. But, that's probably the point.

Photo by Bevin Elias

Reader Question: Coat on a Budget

Kamau Hosten

Question from a reader:

Kamau, 

I need to get a nice winter coat to wear everyday with my suits. I'd love a nice cashmere, but I know they're over my budget. What do you suggest under $500?

Damien W.

Much like choosing a sport coat or a suit, navy and grey are the best options for overcoats. During the three-part series on coats, I touched on the paletot, the single breasted and the trench. For the go-to coat, I would recommend the double breasted paletot, especially for use with sport coats and trousers or suits. However, since we're in December, the availability is limited in a decent price range, so the single breasted overcoat is the best option.

Either navy or grey will work will a multitude of suit options. That said, if your business wear is more formal (dark suits versus sport coats), then a charcoal topcoat will provide the best harmony, pairing well with suits and even formal-wear. The single breasted coat, provided it's a heavier fabric, should take you through the winter with adequate layers under.

Now for a few choices under $500. Suit Supply and J.Crew have some good options in that price range. Scouring ebay is risky, especially as temperatures are quickly dropping. Risky, but still worth a try. Local consignments may carry used, but more luxurious, options at a substantial discount.  For the safest route, try some of these below companies.

 Suit Supply coat ($469) is understated and practical. It's cut a bit shorter than a more traditional overcoat. The trade off is cold legs for a more trim silhouette. A similar option is available in grey.

J.Crew offers a similar topcoat ($495) with a more formal peak lapel. Items typically go on sale regularly and thus, the price quoted does not take that into account.

Bonobos offers a 100% wool topcoat for a just under the budget at $498. It's a simple three button, single breasted style that's innocuous and versatile at the same time.

Ultimately, for the man looking for that one versatile topcoat, the single breast is best, since it works with tailored clothing as well as sportswear.

 

 

The Winter Coat Guide: The Paletot

Kamau Hosten

As a newcomer to cool weather, I was ill-prepared. While I didn't quite freeze my ass off (a little bit of it is still there), the lonely topcoat I moved to New York with was less than adequate. Through enormous research, I narrowed down a few basic pieces of outerwear that should serve any newcomer well for a solid season. This is the first feature in the series on coats.

For myself, I've obtained a much heavier double breasted overcoat in the paletot style. The features being 6x2 buttoning points, with the top two not meant to be fastened, a center vent, peak lapels and a clean, beltless back. The beauty is in the simplicity. The coat has slight waist suppression, but still looks clean when worn over a sports jacket. Additionally, the styling works best with tailored clothing.

Hat by Selentino, coat and scarf by Brioni, trousers by Gant

Hat by Selentino, coat and scarf by Brioni, trousers by Gant

It is said to be 'invented' by 19th century dandies, namely the French count, Alfred D'Orsay. Nick Foulkes, author of Last of the Dandies, recorded that the count, who was caught in a rainstorm, purchased the heavy coat off of the back of a sailor. The vainglorious man-about-town saw a utilitarian appeal to the almost ankle length coat.

Address and age.

Address and age.

 

However outrageous his life may have been, the count was on to something regarding the warmth of this style of coat. Last season, I tried a slim, single breasted chesterfield topcoat. Not only was I unconvinced of my apparent hipness, I was left with bitterly cold knees.

The added layer of fabric and additional length of a double breasted coat are both practical and stylish. This coat proved to be sufficient on a recent blustery Sunday in NYC. With the bottom button fastened, the wind was blocked a bit more than the single breasted counterpart.

Rather than yank the left side of my coat taught over the right, as I did last winter, and futilely flip flimsy lapels up, the breadth of the lapels and the additional layer take the reins against cold. This solution will allow my gloved hands to slide nicely back into the pockets, one more layer away from the wind.

Photos by Bevin Elias

 

 

The Winter Coat Guide: The Single Breasted Topcoat

Kamau Hosten

Following a heavy, double breasted coat, a single breasted top coat is an excellent second option for the milder days of winter. This coat won't look as inherently dressy as a double breasted, opening the wearer's options to sportswear, rather than solely  formal clothing. Though the previous post was spent bemoaning the single breasted coat, it does have its place.

Coat and suit by Brioni, shirt by Piatelli, tie by Isaia, hat by Selentino, eyeglass frames by Tom Ford

Coat and suit by Brioni, shirt by Piatelli, tie by Isaia, hat by Selentino, eyeglass frames by Tom Ford

This style is versatile. The understated charcoal and herringbone pattern make it best at home over suits and sport jackets alike. The peak lapel is a touch that is always dressier than its notched brethren; it's just dashing enough. Still, it's less dressy than its velvet collared chesterfield cousin. The lapel rolls to the middle button, much like a three button jacket. The middle buttoning point provides a the sought after'V' which frames a suit jacket and tie nicely.

Wool pocket square by J.Crew

Wool pocket square by J.Crew

Among the advantages of the single breasted is the quiet simplicity. However, some men have allowed themselves to become hidden in lifeless, ill-fitting coats, the majority of them in black. Incorporating a texture or pattern like herringbone or tweed, in a shade that isn't black, may add enough personality for those willing to tip toe outside the box of conformity.

Bonus points for dressing the breast pocket.

Photos by Bevin Elias

The Perfectly Autumnal Pairing, Brown and Blue

Kamau Hosten

With cool weather making its official return, the opportunities for men who enjoy dressing are limitless. Layers upon layers of textures and richer hues than ones afforded to us during summer months are now a necessary armor against the elements. As a backdrop to the plums and eggplants, rusts and burnt oranges that no doubt line the closet of the well dressed, deep browns and greyish blues provide a quiet balance.

Brown Fedora by Selentino, Harris Tweed jacket by Bloomingdale's, Cashmere trousers by Brioni, Chukkas by Barney's, Umbrella by Kent Wang

Brown Fedora by Selentino, Harris Tweed jacket by Bloomingdale's, Cashmere trousers by Brioni, Chukkas by Barney's, Umbrella by Kent Wang

As we wade slowly into the not yet frozen pool of autumnal shades, I'm reminded how often nature unwittingly dictates our selections. The previously mentioned neutrals of brown and blue and grey play off the sky and its less sunny tendencies during the next several months. Additionally, browns, deep reds, and oranges are reminiscent of the bare trees and their newly fallen leaves, which will hopefully be raked by children more enthusiastic than I was.

Shirt by AM Bespoke, Pocket square by Ikire Jones

Shirt by AM Bespoke, Pocket square by Ikire Jones

These shades, specifically, play well off of each other with many shades of fall. Together, though muted, there lies a quiet elegance in the slightly less formal appeal of it.

Menswear Basics

Kamau Hosten

While clothing enthusiasts explore the most exclusive tweeds and bespoke monk straps in exotic skins, the man less versed in clothing is left wondering what is truly essential when it comes to dressing well. While we should strive to evolve in our dress and, more importantly, ourselves, there are some basic pieces that men can build on.

Suits

When it comes to wardrobes, a suit is the cornerstone of a man’s closet. The importance of a navy suit to the closet was covered here recently. When considering suiting options, a mid-grey and a charcoal pin-stripe are two strong options for a closet. The mid-grey is nearly as versatile as the navy; it can be dressed up, with fiercely polished black shoes or done casual, sans tie.

The charcoal pin-stripe can serve as a deal-making suit.  While this may not be as appropriate for an evening out, it’s welcome in a professional setting and connotes authority.

Sport coats

A navy blazer is the first step in building a wardrobe. Following that, a plaid, gun club check sport coat or houndstooth are the next options that lends themselves to a variety of combinations.

While casual Friday has been replaced with casual Monday through Friday, the guy who cares gives a middle finger to baggy, pleated chino and well-worn deck shoes masses in favor of thought-out ensembles everyday.

Shirts

In the spirit of oversimplification, one day shirt everyday of the week (7). Two white shirts, one light blue, one blue/white stripe, one pale pink, one oxford cloth in a casual hue and one check. Again, that’s merely the basic.

Neckwear

For me, the navy grenadine is the undisputed champion of neckwear. I’ve not encountered a sport coat or suit this tie wouldn’t work with. The black knit, brown polka-dot and grey cashmere are equally valuable additions. Add at (tasteful) whim.

Trousers

Grey and navy are the most versatile options for most men to reach for. Either pant would work well with a multitude of blazers and sport coats.  While one could break up a solid grey or navy suit to use as separates in a pinch, the textures of dressier fabrics used for suits can look out of place when broken up.

Casual pants

Two pair of dark jeans, two pair of chinos (light and dark)

Shoes

Past features here have included the essential black cap toe for business, suede lace up for textured trousers and suits, double monk trap for the jaunty side of you, and the suede chukka, tassel loafer and the adult sneaker.

This is merely about building a wardrobe. It may be overwhelming to attempt this in one sitting. Department stores tend to more fashion-focused, and thus one may be tempted by displays with up-to-the moment trends. Visiting a men’s shop or haberdashery, or having a clothier visit you is a more beneficial option. The latter, allows for the one-on-one consultation without the disruption of a store setting.

Three Piece Season

Kamau Hosten

Should the mercury in the thermometers (which I'm certain few homes still have) continue its annual descent, we're left with little choice in the battle against the cold. We, collectively, traverse the bone-chilling cold streets, swathed in natural fibers, stopping for occasional respite at obscenely over-priced, mediocre chain coffee shops. The enjoyment from this presumed misery for the dressers; the men who appreciate clothing to a near maniacal degree, is the beginning of the season of layers. Chief among these is the three piece suit.

I'm not suggesting that the elegance of a coordinating jacket, trousers and waistcoat are solely limited to autumn and winter, rather there's more of a need, a utilitarian purpose for them during these months.

Three piece glen check suit, silver handled walking stick, white linen handkerchief all by Brioni, white shirt by T.M. Lewin, pin dot tie by Polo Ralph Lauren, white gold Abielle bee pin by By Elias

Three piece glen check suit, silver handled walking stick, white linen handkerchief all by Brioni, white shirt by T.M. Lewin, pin dot tie by Polo Ralph Lauren, white gold Abielle bee pin by By Elias

 

There's a proper formality to the three piece. When the jacket is casually tossed off -or, ideally hung- the wearer still appears better dressed than his billowy shirt counterparts. More than practicality, it looks damned good. However, for the pragmatists, the additional layer, fixed closely to the body is another, more tasteful option to trap in heat during cooler months.

Consider, for the bulk phobic, a three piece in a heavy, say 18 ounce tweed, paired with gloves and a scarf may keep the wearer just as warm as an overcoat, but without the added garment.

Gold collar bar and lapel pin by By Elias, silk pocket square by Hermes, vintage mother-of-pearl cufflinks

Gold collar bar and lapel pin by By Elias, silk pocket square by Hermes, vintage mother-of-pearl cufflinks

 

This combination yields infinitely more tasteful results than the ridiculously unstylish, high-low trend of the puffer or fleece vest with suit I've seen on the streets of midtown Manhattan. My own predilection is to employ muted suiting fabrics, as I favor a reserved appearance. The furnishings are equally-and harmoniously-underplayed as well. All of this allows the cut of the suit to take the center stage in a way not jarring to the eyes. Details like the crocodile oxford and the gold By Elias pin are small touches that bring visual interest to an ensemble heavy in navy.

Three piece suit by A.M. Bespoke, shirt by Brioni, tie by Ike Behar, shoes by Brioni, socks by Bresciani, gold Fleur de lis by By Elias

Three piece suit by A.M. Bespoke, shirt by Brioni, tie by Ike Behar, shoes by Brioni, socks by Bresciani, gold Fleur de lis by By Elias

The season for adding layers is now. Rather than tip toe into the fall, enter pridefully with the elegance of a three piece suit, or the addition of one. Will a three piece make you look a little more dressed, a bit more put together? Certainly. That's the point.

Photos by Bevin Elias

The Right Collar

Kamau Hosten

I recall a few years back putting on a turtleneck, a black cashmere number from Brooks Brothers. I'd gotten it from my mother for Christmas the previous year. This time, though, something didn't seem right. I felt hidden. 

Such is the case with many of us who gleefully strut around wearing pieces that aren't right for our bodies. This is especially true with the dress shirt collar. A minor adjustment can yield more suitable results. It's merely knowing the shape of your face and which is the best collar to select. Personally, I'm still working out the kinks. I have recognized that my face will never elongate itself into a more modelesqe visage.

Take for instance the nominee for Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry, a lifelong target of "Why the long face?" jokes. His point collar Turnbull & Asser dress shirts complement his longer face by continuing the flow.

 

Other men of power and influence, but of fuller cheek and rounded chin have opted for collar with a bit more spread, staying consistent with the width of the face. Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, utilizes the spread collar for his more oval-shaped face.

 

 Lino Ielluzi, owner of Al Bazaar, a haberdashery in Milan, and an internet god, has a quite full face. His cutaway collars have become part of his signature look, along with the 6x2 double breasted suits and coats and burnished monk strap shoes. Again, the width is in-keeping with that of his face.

The right fit requires us to forgo trends. Slim collars, lapels, and ties, on a fat face make the wearer look even more bloated. Creating a signature look that's entirely yours will outlast the trends.

This is yet another avenue where it's worth the extra money to go custom. All the details, including the important collar can be selected for the best fit.

The Winter Coat Guide: The Trench

Kamau Hosten

Before the end of November the gleaming lights and trimmings of 5th Avenue shops will attempt to conjure up a warm, rather cozy, if slightly manufactured, concept of holiday spirit. Truthfully, The Rockefeller Center Tree, with its own televised special complete with magnificent lights and pageantry is an annual tradition marking a true beginning to the Christmas season for many.  On the more cynical, though realistic, end of the holiday spectrum is the perpetual need for various coats to brave the the bitter elements. For the cool and rainy days ahead, the trench coat, especially the lined variety, should act as a first mate of sorts as we trudge our way through wintery slush.

With the cold weather staples like the paletot and the single breasted topcoat hopefully on the checklist, another equally important addition is said trench coat. The most widely accepted story regarding its name is that it was favored by British officers during the first World War; of which battle took place in trenches. Tan gabardine or cotton, popularized by Burberry and Aquascutum, is the most traditional, and historic choice, it's also the most ubiquitous. For the purists, nothing but khaki will do. Less popular but, just as appropriate is navy.

Unbranded coat (consignment shop), jacket by Isaia, shirt and foulard by Brioni, trousers by Gant, hat by Selentino

Unbranded coat (consignment shop), jacket by Isaia, shirt and foulard by Brioni, trousers by Gant, hat by Selentino

A cashmere overcoat and a newspaper held over one's head is no real match for the weather.  The basic construction of the coat itself; double breasted with storm flaps and wrist belts, all designed so water beads off the coat and doesn't get in, is a garment that came into fashion based on its utility. That, coupled with a removable lining can serve as a topcoat for the cool rainy days. When layer adequately, it may provide sufficient warmth for frigid temperatures as well. It's not the ideal choice but, it will work in a pinch.

Now, many design houses and fast fashion retailers have reworked the classic into a myriad of colors and lengths. Yet still, coats, especially those intended to protect the wearer from rain, make the most sense at knee length, despite what the trends may be.

A fourth option is the alternative coat. This green coat is wool, with a quilted lining. It is more substantial than a traditional trench coat but, with all of the militaristic inspiration and styling of one.

Coat by Brioni, Shirt by Kamakura, tie by Park en Madison Su misura, hat by Selentino

Coat by Brioni, Shirt by Kamakura, tie by Park en Madison Su misura, hat by Selentino

The color separates the wearer from the herd of black and off black. While it's not suited for the blistery days, it's ideal for odd jackets and trousers on calm, but cool days. This coat will be just as home with chinos and jeans, versus the decidedly dressier double breasted paletot.

Utility and style play well together in a trench coat. The military inspired construction is practical; keeping the wearer warm and dry. The styling, typically a distant second with a garment designed for military use, has become a popular piece since the second World War. Immortalized on screen by the Humphrey Bogart's character in Casablanca, it's become that rare piece with equal parts style and function.

All photos by Bevin Elias

Rollneck Season

Kamau Hosten

While quite short of groundbreaking, the equal parts style and function tandem of the rollneck sweater makes it one of fall's most welcome choices in a man's closet.

Jacket by Hardy Amies, rollneck by Brioni, trousers by Benneton, loafers by Alden

Jacket by Hardy Amies, rollneck by Brioni, trousers by Benneton, loafers by Alden

The rollneck, or turtleneck, sweater has maintained its standing over the decades for most men. That is, it's a wonderful fall and winter asset for the man with a longer, thin neck. It serves as a shield against the wind in place of a scarf on mild days, and one more layer (under a scarf) on cooler days. Additionally, for the man with a longer neck, it can deemphasize this. Whereas a crewneck or v-neck sweater opens up, further elongating the face a neck, helpful for the man with a shorter neck and more, um, solid face and head.

It's best paired with odd jackets and trousers. Certainly a tweed jacket and a rollneck conjure up images of a college professor, which isn't a bad look to have. The style is less formal than its v-neck cousin, due to the lack of available space for a shirt and tie. Which means, it doesn't lend itself well to use with worsted suits but, certainly more fabrics with more substantial texture.

In cashmere, a blend or merino wool, the thinner the sweater, the dressier it is. Just as with a shirt and necktie, keep in mind harmony, since the focus will be on the sweater. Unless you're going for a militant look, the dark on dark is less flattering than Dead Presidents makes it seem. Plus, if you opt for merino wool, robbery will be less necessary to afford one.

This is high season for the rollneck. Participate.

Photos by Bevin Elias