09
Oct

Review: Louis Walton neckwear

One of the most under-appreciated details on a necktie is the bar tack. I’ve had neckties that I’ve paid a hefty sum for that lacked a decent bar tack and came undone after a few wears, which is a moment of disappointment when you think back to how much the tie cost. It’s a tiny detail, unnoticed by so many — wearers and manufacturers alike — but I happen to enjoy the tactile feel of a well-sewn one.

Louis Walton's bar tacks are impressive, as you can see above. I consider it on par with those found on Vanda Fine Clothing's and Panta Clothing's neckties. It's better than the bar tacks found on Drake's London and Polo Ralph Lauren, in my opinion. It's the first thing I noticed when I received a review necktie, handmade by owner Gregory Walton (he named the company after his father) in San Francisco. 

"I started making ties because I realized the things I liked were very expensive and I felt that with practice I could make something just as nice as the things in the shops I liked," Gregory said. "In my family it has been a practice to learn to make the things or do the services we like."

Gregory’s been sewing neckties since 2008 and initially gave them away as gifts until a friend asked him to design a line of ties and pocket squares for his shop. 

The tie Gregory sent me is this navy Japanese cotton with white flowers in a six-fold design. The tie is lightly lined and untipped, two details I particularly enjoy. It also features a hand-sewn slip-stitch to allow the tie to recover after being worn.  

I asked Gregory about some of the technical challenges of learning how to sew ties by hand, and unsurprisingly he said it’s not easy. One of his mentors taught him how to make patterns for shirts and trousers, which helped him develop his own patterns for neckties. 

"There is still a measure of trial and error involved because I make each tie with the client in mind," Gregory said. "Therefore, the shape and length of each tie is different depending on the size and preferences of the client. I am constantly learning and trying different things."

Another challenge is sourcing fabric and thread, because they’re not available at just any fabric store, often needing to be sourced from mills directly. Finding good fabric is extremely important to him because it affects how the tie drapes and knots. 

While the design and pattern of the fabric is originally what caught my eye (I’m always a sucker for navy ties), the light cotton actually goes nicely with a variety of summer and warm-weather jackets and the “neat” flower pattern gives just enough visual variety to break up an ensemble of solids. I liked it in particular against a light blue linen shirt and a white linen-cotton jacket.

If you’ve been following the Louis Walton tumblr, you’ll notice that Gregory’s also been expanding his skillset into leather goods, including belts and keyholders. If you took a look, you’ll see they look damn impressive. 

"I am very excited to be branching into leather work and find it o be very rewarding," Gregory said. "I am starting with small pieces like keyholders and wallets, and I hope to offer larger items like briefcases and bags for men next year. I do everything by hand and it leads to pieces that are very strong and structured, while still being soft and pliable." 

Gregory also mentioned he’s working on outerwear pieces with a local tailor to be offered as made-to-measure items. 

It should also be noted that Gregory’s training under Beatrice Amblard of April In Paris fame. For those who don’t know, Amblard is a former Hermes artisan that now has her own label designing custom leather accessories in San Francisco. 

Check out Louis Walton and follow Gregory on Tumblr and Twitter. I have a feeling it’s going to be exciting to watch.

08
Oct

Review: Navali helmsman canvas briefcase

A few weeks ago, a representative from Navali contacted me about reviewing their canvas bags. Now, I’ve already got a canvas briefcase I’m rather happy with, but it’s not perfect and could use some improvements. So, I figured it’d be interesting to see what Navali offered for a casual briefcase versus the one I already used. 

The first thing I look for in a briefcase is if it can actually carry my stuff. And I do tend to carry quite a bit with me (although, thankfully, I don’t have to carry things like paper files or huge thick notebooks). I typically use my briefcase for carrying at minimum these things:

  • My 13” Macbook Pro (in a custom-made leather slipcase)
  • My power adaptor
  • My short umbrella
  • My BlackBerry
  • Pens, notepad, business cards
  • Fujifilm X10 camera (sometimes)
  • Light jacket (sometimes)

The Navali “helmsman” briefcase actually carries these items way better than my Filson 256. The two side pouches work extremely well to carry the X10 camera in one pouch and the power adaptor in the other. They snap closed with magnetic snaps that make it really easy to get into them. As you can also see, there’s some small flat pouches sewn on the front. Perfect for a transit card, pens or even a cellphone.:

On the interior of the main pouch area, the briefcase has a lot of room for a laptop and then some. There’s a divided off area with snaps to place a laptop (inside a sleeve), however, it’s worth noting that this area is completely unpadded. You’ll want to make sure you place your laptop in a protective case of some sort. There’s also a zip compartment on the front interior of the bag that’d best for placing loose items like pens, coins and business cards. There’s also two slip pouches along the interior that are probably good for holding notepads or a checkbook. 

As you can see, I managed to fit a Barbour Liddesdale and a short umbrella in the main area. You could easily cram an overnight’s change of clothing in the main compartment. Maybe even a full weekend’s worth of clothing if you didn’t bring your laptop. There’s also a keyring on the inside, which is a nice place to put a spare set of keys in your bag. 

I also appreciated that on the bottom of the bag that Navali placed a strip of leather along the base. This will give the bag’s canvas bottom protection as you constantly set it down. This is another feature that’s lacking on the Filson 256 that I wish they’d have included. The only improvement I’d make beyond this would be placing four brass studs — one in each corner — so you could set the bag upright on a flat surface. Regardless, leather on the base is a nice touch.

While we’re talking about leather, I have to say that the leather quality does feel rather nice. It’s smooth and doesn’t feel “rough” to handle. The bag handles are actually way more comfortable to use than the Filson 256’s bridle leather straps. The rounded construction feels much more nicer in the hand.

I also want to give Navali some points for very discrete branding. You’ll notice the strip of leather that’s between the handle’s sides in the photo above, shaped like a naval signaling flag: that’s it. On the interior is a blue label with their name on it, but the branding is done nicely and isn’t obvious. I’m a fan of that. 

I do have criticisms, however, on this briefcase. The most noticeable one is the shoulder strap. The strap itself is actually super comfortable to wear and wide enough to stay on your shoulder. My gripe isn’t with the shoulder strap itself, but the fact that you cannot remove it. Also, because of the design of the top zipper closure of the briefcase, you cannot shove the strap inside the briefcase when not in use. 

Now, the shoulder strap is attached really well and I don’t think anyone will have to worry about it failing on you. And if you’re the type of person who always wants the shoulder strap on your briefcase, then this is a non-issue for you. But it’s worth pointing out for those who want the option to remove it. I spoke with the Navali representative about this and was told that in future models they’re looking at having the shoulder strap removable. So, that’s something to look for in the future. 

Another mild criticism I have about the briefcase is that the back has no “magazine” pocket — an open-ended pocket along the outside to shove a newspaper or magazine in and have easy access to while commuting. I use mine all the time on my Filson 256 and think it’d be a no-brainer addition to this briefcase. Then again, if you’re the kind of person who spends all your time on the iPhone on your commute, this is another non-issue. 

In terms of construction, I found it to be very well made. The canvas is durable but lighter and has a softness to it — kind of a “washed” feeling. This is a complete contrast to the stiff canvas feel of the Filson 256. I know some people like the idea of “breaking in” their Filson, but it does make it tougher to get that “flexibility” from the canvas walls. If you’re looking to avoid that and want to be able to stuff your bag full immediately, then the Navali might be more up your alley. 

I would also warn against using this bag in a downpour (hence why I always carry an umbrella), as the canvas isn’t exactly waterproof. Granted, most briefcases aren’t waterproof (unless you get a waxed canvas), but it’s something you should know. 

So, what’s my final verdict? I think the Navali briefcase is a good value. It’s $104.99 on their site, which is less than half the cost of a Filson 256 and way cheaper than a lot of other designer canvas bags. 

The bag’s probably best suited for those of you in a business-casual environment. While I wouldn’t recommend this bag if your job requires you wear a suit and tie to work each day, I would say that it’s probably going to fit in most work environments nowadays where the dress code tops out at a sport coat and jeans. 

The bag’s plenty durable for trips and has enough room to carry most of what you’d really want to hang off your shoulder. Navali also has a weekender bag ($124.99) that I think is worth taking a look at and two types of messenger bags, a satchel and a rucksack. They’re aiming to sell directly to the consumer rather than sell wholesale to retailers, which means you can get their products without any of the markup. 

If your budget is around $100, Navali ought to be a maker your look into for a bag. 

And, look, a contest: Navali’s Facebook page is holding a trivia contest and giving away a free card-case wallet. All you have to do is “like” their page and answer the question correctly (seriously, not that hard). So, go check it out and enter to win a one. 

11
Sep

Review: Sette Neckwear — Several months ago during the StyleForum 10th Anniversary Meetup, I discovered Sette Neckwear at the vendor showcase and bought what is probably the most expensive necktie I’ve purchased in my life. 

I didn’t plan on doing this and I’ll admit to it being a bit of an impulse buy, but it’s genuinely one of the most exciting pieces of clothing I had the opportunity to get. 

As I walked by their table, I took the time to handle their true 7-fold ties. While some so-called 7-fold ties are actually 6-folds, Sette actually uses a single piece of silk that it folds seven times to make its neckwear. In fact, the company’s name means the number seven in Italian. 

The construction is completely done by hand — hand folded and hand sewn. It’s unlined and feels delicately lightweight. The stitch down the back is done in a high-constrast thread with signature bar tacks in the shape of the number 7. 

Adding to the exclusivity, Sette ties are made in very limited numbers. Only 21 in the “classic” line and only seven in the “pure” line. Each tie is individually numbered on a printed area of the silk. And each tie comes boxed in a hard case along with an ID card that can be registered on their website so you can see who else shares the same tie as you in the collection. 

All of this is pretty cool, but not typically something that convinces me to put down three figures for a necktie. What sold me on making a purchase was something that I actually had in common with the company’s founder: we both had a prior career in politics. Founder Peter Watkins spent half a decade in the White House and it was really cool to meet someone who shared a passion for both politics and neckwear. 

As I looked over the designs on the table, none at the time caught my eye. Naturally, several Sette designs are targeted toward politicos, including elephants for Republicans and donkeys for Democrats (actually, only the blue donkey tie was on display at the time). I lamented out loud that I’d seen their red Republican tie on their site, but wished it came in another color other than red, as I only wear blue or navy ties now. 

Then, I was treated to something really special. 

"We didn’t put the Republican ties out as we’re here in California." True, it’s probably a bit rare to expect to find a Chicagoan who’s a Republican wandering around in a San Francisco hotel. "We were saving these for the convention. They’re not even on the site yet."

From under the table came a blue elephant print tie still in a plastic sleeve. My eyes lit up. 

"Oh, and it’s the first one! You’d be the first one to have this style." 

At that point, it was game over. The tie went from an expensive indulgence that’d be nice to have to a must-have item that would hold a unique place in my wardrobe. So, I bought it. 

The tie is definitely different from any other I own. In fact, I have to knot it differently than every other tie I own. The combination of the tie’s slightly longer length plus its unlined nature makes it a bit too long for the four-in-hand and even the half-Windsor. 

Instead, I spent a good hour trying to come up with a unique knot that was asymmetric, had a decent volume and held a correct length on my torso with back and front blades being even and at the waist. I may make a video in the future, who knows. 

Those who are taller or have wider necks may find they can go to their standard knots. Or if you’re a full-Windsor guy, then this tie will work well. I just can’t stand the look of a full-Windsor knot, so I kind of went a bit overboard on developing my own. 

Obviously, I’m an unabashed fan of the tie. I wear it with a striped shirt, navy blazer, trousers and wingtips. I plan on wearing it during the fall election season and at moments when I want to show off my subtle political affiliation. 

If you’re looking for a unique tie to give as a gift or for yourself, then definitely check out Sette Neckwear

Furthermore, if you visit Sette’s Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter page, you can find out information about a contest they’re having where they’re giving away a free necktie (all you have to do is like, share, reblog or retweet). Definitely check it out. 

10
Sep

Review: Indochino

Several weeks ago I was invited by Indochino to check out their “Traveling Tailor” event. I would go through their measurement and try-on process, be allowed to pick the details of a suit and then receive a comped suit to review. 

When I first heard about Indochino a while back, the idea did appeal to me: a custom suit for under $400?! Then, after learning more from others who have tried them and seeing that the process either went really well or not quite so great, I’ll admit to having lost the enthusiasm for trying it. 

Let’s be honest: doing anything MTM, especially online, is risky. You might not take your measurements correctly and I’ve rarely had any custom-made item perfect on the first try. And with suits, there’s a lot of variables at play that have to be weighed to make sure you get the correct fit. There’s a reason bespoke suiting takes several fittings and also looks the best. 

The “Traveling Tailor” appealed a bit more to me as an idea, if only because it removes the whole process of self-measurement from the equation. This is my largest gripe with online MTM services, because the business has no quality control on the customer’s ability to take correct measurements, and you have no idea as the customer how your measurements will be interpreted. 

The “Traveling Tailor” process is simple: a pop-up shop appears in a city, you schedule an appointment and they take measurements and fit you to a suit model. For the first few minutes a salesperson goes through the process of taking a tailor’s tape to your basic measurements and enters them all into an iPod Touch. 

After the measurements are entered, I assume the app gives a suggested suit size. You’re then handed a pre-made suit off a rack that corresponds somewhat closely to your measurements and you try it on in a tiny curtained off temporary dressing area. 

The app put me originally in a suit size too small. The pants felt like jeggings and the jacket gave me zero movement in my shoulders and arms. The second suit fit a bit better, going one size up. 

From there, more alterations are made. Letting out or taking in hems or cuffs. I had them adjust for the excess fabric along the back of my shoulders. You get a close approximation of how it’s going to turn out, but it’s hard to be entirely sure. 

After measurements are done, you’re taken to check out fabrics and styles. Entire sheets of the various fabrics are draped on displays so you can feel them and get an idea of what they look like visually over a large area — no tiny swatch books here. Same went for linings, which looked more like flags on a pole. 

They had lots of forms setup, too, with various jackets styled on them with all sorts of colorful combinations and details to show off what’s possible. And they really do have quite a bit of options available. You can pick types of pockets, stitching, contrasting threads, surgeon cuffs, interior pockets, etc. 

In the end, I kept it really basic: dark charcoal, single-breasted, two-button, notch lapels, no surgeon cuffs w/ kissing buttons, jetted pockets, navy lining, double-vented. 

Overall, the experience is nice. I didn’t feel particularly rushed and you can definitely take your time picking the different design details. Being rather conservative, I opted to not take advantage of stuff like ticket pockets or flashy linings. I think it’s easy to get carried away with options like that and wanted to see how a basic charcoal suit would be executed by them. 

Then, the wait. A few weeks later, this box appeared:

The suit came a bit beat up. It was wrinkled and definitely needed a pressing — so badly that one of the lapels had a very significant crease in it. Also, it didn’t come with a hangar, so you’ll need to provide you own suit hanger. These might be little things, but I’ve yet to buy a jacket or suit online that didn’t ship with at least a plastic hangar with wide ends for shoulder support. 

Shipping methods aside, I’m primarily concerned with fit. Here’s the overall shot:

If I’d received this suit maybe a year or two ago, I’d probably be OK with the fit. It certainly doesn’t look terrible or extremely poor fitting, however, it’s not something I would wear right now. There’s multiple reasons, which I’ll detail, that will likely keep this in the closet for me. 

First, the jacket (you can see the creasing from shipping as I lightened the photo a bit here):

I’m OK with the overall length and even with the sleeves and where they landed. They actually nailed that part (I prefer to show 0.75” to 1” of cuff). However, the most crucial part that needed to be perfect is really quite off: the shoulders. 

Indochino’s suit has a lot of shoulder padding. They could remove half of its thickness and do much better. I don’t exactly have “built” shoulders (as I don’t hit the gym at all) and am actually quite boney, but the padding is so big that it makes it appear I’m wearing football pads and almost squares off my shoulders.

Additionally, the shoulder width is about 0.5” too wide on each side and the shoulder padding doesn’t help this at all. In fact, the shoulder padding makes it worse and produces divots. 

Even with Indochino’s $75 alterations credit, this isn’t something a tailor could alter and fix cheaply. Altering to narrow the shoulders on a jacket is something I’ve done once and it turned out badly and was expensive. Plus, there’s still the issue of shoulder padding, which would need to be replaced — and that would probably negatively affect the balance of the jacket, too. Frankly, doing such alterations isn’t worth my tailor’s time or the money. 

Which is a shame, as I’m not against the jacket besides these facts. Sure, the lapels are narrower than I’d like on a suit, but if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s fine. The button stance is higher, but I’ve got higher button stances on several jackets I own, too. For me, the jacket’s wearable if it weren’t for the shoulders. 

As for the trousers:

The trousers have a really, really low rise on them. Lower than any trousers I’ve owned, even from J.Crew. I asked during the measurement process if a higher rise was possible and I was basically told it wasn’t. 

The trousers are definitely trim. They actually were a bit long on the hem, but that’s because I told them to make them a bit longer. If I were to get these altered, I’d take up the hem about 0.75” or 1”. 

The pants definitely feel a bit tight. If you have larger thighs, I could see this being a bit problematic in combination with the lowered rise. 

They’re not unwearable though, especially if you’re used to a lower rise on trousers and skinnier. For me, they’re kind of pushing their slim-fitting abilities on my upper leg area and get a bit tight when sitting. 

So, what’s my overall verdict on Indochino?

I don’t think I could recommend them to someone in most cases. 

For their introductory $380 base price, it’d be an OK idea if you’re on a tight budget and have weird measurements that prevent you from buying from other off-the-rack places. Otherwise, I’d suggest going with the many other off-the-rack options out there in the same price range. 

I should point out that this suit didn’t work out for me mainly because of the shoulders of the jacket. If that’d worked out, I’d have a more-positive review. I could probably wear this suit out in public and most people wouldn’t call me poorly dressed. But I’m a very picky person who notices stuff like overly-padded shoulders and not a fan of low rises. And if I’m not 100% comfortable about details like that, then I tend to just not wear the item. 

There are definitely others who have had their suits work for them. If you’re considering Indochino — or simply want several other takes on them — consider spending time at Indochino Review, StyleForum, Ask Andy About Clothes and Put This On. And I’d definitely be on the lookout for Jeffrey Diduch’s Indochino review, as he’ll probably have a very good explanation about the suit’s quality and construction. 

Of course, if you wish to try out the “Traveling Tailor” yourself, they’ll next be in San Francisco from September 18th to 23rd and will likely have other cities on their tour list soon. 

24
Jul

Review: Filson 256 Briefcase & Belt

For a good three to four month stretch I spent a lot of time looking into getting a better briefcase. I looked at all sorts of models, makers and materials and read way more reviews and threads on StyleForum than I probably needed to read. 

While I was content with my leather briefcase, there were a few things I wasn’t entirely happy about. It was heavy, it was hard to stuff extra things into (like a change of clothing or a jacket/sweater) because of the interior padded laptop compartment and I wasn’t a fan of the rigid dividers. 

Plus, I wasn’t really sure that I needed a leather briefcase anymore — it felt like overkill for the new job. I couldn’t really bring it with me casually to carry stuff for a day trip, nor could I even fit my Fujifilm X-10 in it (and that’s a pretty small camera, too). 

I felt that instead of going with a leather bag, I’d look into canvas instead. The obvious choice is to go with Filson. Everyone who has one raves about it. I’d seen them several places and thought they certainly could do the job. But I looked around some more. 

In the end though, Filson was the only one that really impressed me. I’m sure others will rave about their preferences, and that’s fine. But I trusted the Filson name, the large volume of support it has from others who have had them for years and the design appealed to me in several ways. 

I wanted one with a zip-top so I could seal it and make sure nothing valuable inside would fall out. I also wanted a flap to cover the zipper so it could keep water out in the event I got caught in the rain. The side stash pockets were a nice bonus on the outside of the 256 model and the interior’s dividers worked well enough for my needs. 

I’ve been using the bag since April and the stiffness of the cotton canvas is beginning to go away. The bridle leather straps are really great (probably the only thing I was really worried about), but they probably could use some leather conditioner soon. 

My biggest gripe though is the shoulder strap, which doesn’t stay on my shoulder very well and the shoulder pad is virtually worthless. I also feel the strap is too long and has a lot of excess leather that kind of flaps around when it’s set on the shortest hole on the adjustment buckle. I’m considering finding someone to make a new custom strap for me that’ll be more useful. 

As far as being able to carry my stuff, you can see the images below that I’ve stuffed it really damned full of things. I put a Barbour Liddesdale, a Macbook Pro 13” with leather sleeve and power supply, notebook, mini umbrella and my X-10 camera all in the bag’s interior. Probably overkill, but it does fit and that doesn’t even include the exterior pockets. 

I was impressed enough with the bridle leather straps on the briefcase that I also decided to pick up a 1.5” wide belt from them, too. I found that skinner belts just didn’t look right on denim that had wider loops, so this belt worked out just fine. As far as sizing goes, I just went true to size (i.e.: I wear a 34” trouser, so I bought a 34” belt). 

As far as belts go, a lot of people make great leather belts, but I felt the price of this one was very reasonable at around $50. I wear it almost daily. It’s a really dark shade of brown, but I don’t mind much about that. It looks good, feelts great and does its job. 

If you’re looking to buy something from Filson, then please take a look at Hilton Tent City. Use code FSNREG11 to get 15% off all Filson products they stock. Plus, you get free shipping on orders over $50. That’s pretty much the cheapest price on Filson products you’ll find on the web (and, yes, I spent a lot of time looking). Their site is a little old, but they delivered quickly and I didn’t have any problems with them. They even have Filson’s “Red Label” tote bags in stock. 

30
Apr

Review: The Knottery silk knit ties, pocket squares & shoelaces

For a while, I’ve been featuring items from The Knottery here on the blog. Their goal of providing affordable menswear accessories is laudable. I placed an order with them a while back and wanted to give a review to put to end some of the questions I’ve received about them.

I’ve seen the question asked quite frequently — with skepticism — about the quality of The Knottery’s silk knit neckties, which are made in China. There’s some obvious hesitation from some — even at the affordable pricetag — about if these stack up to more expensive silk knits made in either Italy or England. 

Let’s just skip to the point: The Knottery has the best value when it comes to silk knit ties

Ranging for $25 to $30, these ties stack up to the quality of silk knits that cost up to three times as much. In fact, they’re so so good, I can’t tell their quality or construction apart from some I have that were manufactured in England. 

I picked up the breton stripe inspired tie, The Port, and I’m extremely pleased with it.

How do I know this? I own two silk knit ties from J.Press: one is a solid silk knit in navy, another is a navy and red striped tie on an ecru ground. Both are made in England and sold for about $90 at retail. The striped tie is different in construction than the solid tie. I have no idea if they’re both manufactured in the same place or not, but the striped one has a slightly more “open” weave, whereas the solid one has is more “dense” and less see-through. 

The Knottery’s silk knit is more like the striped J.Press silk knit. The weave is somewhat open and when you examine the knits up close, you’d swear they were made by the same machine. 

Look below. If I didn’t tell you which tie was made in England and which one was made in China, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Even by feeling them you can’t tell the difference. Both are soft to the touch and the fibers feel the same. Both of the back seams are the same stitching them together. Both of the neck bands are the same. 

(J.Press is on the left, The Knottery on the right.)

Below, I’ve compared The Knottery (center) with a silk knit from Lands’ End (left, made in Italy) and my solid-navy J.Press (right, England). You’ll notice the knit weave is more open from Lands’ End and the Italian tie is a bit more “crunchy” and rougher in texture. It’s a significantly different weave pattern and construction. 

The J.Press solid silk knit is similar in softness (but not the same), but the knits are closer together and it’s virtually opaque in comparison to The Knottery’s weave. The seam stitching the tie together is different, too. 

While these solid knits are obviously different than The Knottery’s attributes, I think The Knottery can easily say their silk knit doesn’t suffer in quality in any way and especially isn’t inferior. If anything, The Knottery’s supplier in China is able to match the quality of a silk knit tie from England at a third of the retail price.

Bottom line: The Knottery’s silk knit ties are a steal.

I also picked up a pocket square from The Knottery. I won’t give you some sort of song and dance about a pocket square, but it’s pretty much what I expected. I liked the semi-minimal design on an off-white ground. 

For $12, I’m satisfied to add another pocket square to my collection that goes with my blue-heavy theme. Are there cheaper pocket squares out there? Sure. Are there more expensive ones? Sure. But I was more about getting this pattern than what the price was.

I also picked up a pair of shoelaces from The Knottery. The ones that I’d been using on a pair of chocolate suede Allen Edmonds I picked up on eBay had gotten toward the end of their life. 

While The Knottery offers a great deal of colorful options, I went with their “Vanilla Creme” option. Personally, there’s something a bit too dandy for me about super-bright laces in other colors, but I liked the way the white laces offset the darker brown. Plus, the concept of “vanilla and chocolate” seemed to amuse me. 

For kicks, I thought I’d put together a simple summer look with all these elements. White OCBD, white denim, blue unconstructed cotton sportcoat, plus a chocolate suede belt from The Knottery as well (reviewed previously here). You can never go wrong with blue, brown and white. 

While a lot of people use accessories that draw attention to themselves (insert “pop of color” joke here) that nukes the cohesiveness of outfit they’re wearing, I’m beginning to prefer accessories that help solidify a color palette. 

A year or two ago, I might’ve gone for adding more patterns or colors. Now, I find myself subtracting colors from my wardrobe. I’m becoming a greater fan of solids and minimally adding stripes or polka dots in neckwear. And while I love my collection of beautiful printed silk squares, I often reach for a TV-folded linen. 

So, my recent purchases from The Knottery reflect the current direction my style is moving toward: matching a theme of playful simplicity in my own color story.

06
Mar

Review: Vanda Fine Clothing unlined 6-fold garza fina grenadine

I’ve been admiring the neckties in recent months coming out from Vanda Fine Clothing, but the pricepoint always made me hesitate and hold off. While I don’t necessarily mind paying for high-quality, hand-crafted neckwear from a small business, the product I buy has to be an absolute “must-have” for me that I feel is completely unavailable elsewhere. 

Enter Vanda’s untipped, unlined, 6-fold garza fina navy grenadine necktie, first seen at La Casuarina, who received two prototypes from Vanda. I was immediately reminded of La Casuarina’s vintage Hermes 7-fold garza fina grenadine and how much I wished I could find a similar necktie. 

Given my addiction for navy neckties and the irresistibility of a multi-fold grenadine, I quickly shot off an email to Vanda, asking if they would take a pre-order for a similar necktie. Gerald was kind enough to write me back and let me know that it was still in prototype stages, but could still be purchased. He even offered to let me send it back for a lining if I felt the unlined construction didn’t work. 

I placed an order and waited. And it was completely worth the wait and price. 

The most obvious first thing you notice is how sheer the necktie is without a lining or tipping. It feels lighter than a silk pocket square or linen shirt, yet the texture feels actually durable despite the very open weave. 

The 6-fold construction actually gives the tie some much needed heft and thickness when you tie it. It cinches up well and drapes nicely in an arch around the knot. You don’t really have to try to tie a good knot — it’s almost if it naturally forms itself. 

But the real amazing stuff is found in the details. You can’t help but love the hand-rolled edges and the sewing at the tip. It’s all exposed and you almost can’t believe it’s done by hand. The meticulousness of the stitching is astounding when you examine it up close and feel the edges with your hand. 

What I really love though about the necktie though is how it’s reduced to its bare-bones. No blade keeper. No labels. Just an absolutely well-crafted piece of neckwear. 

How does this necktie stack up to others I own? Frankly, it doesn’t — because I own no other neckties like this one and it sits alone as a unique piece in my collection that I’m glad to have and wear.

02
Mar

Review: Santi Leather laptop sleeve

I’ve been looking for a protective sleeve for my MacBook Pro for a long time and just never found the right one. 

Being a picky sort, I had quite a list of requirements, which made it incredibly difficult to find something readily available, within my budget and looked nice. 

For materials, i wanted to stay away from synthetic materials entirely. Most sleeves are lined with or entirely constructed with neoprene, which traps heat. If you own a MacBook Pro, then you know how hot these get. Immediately putting away your laptop into a sleeve will result in the heat being contained inside the sleeve and potentially overheating your computer — even though it’s technically “off”. 

For this reason, I wanted a natural material that wouldn’t overheat the contents like a synthetic might. Also, there’s the added bonus of getting a much more aesthetically-pleasing look from leather or even fabrics like Harris Tweed, wool or canvas. 

Additionally, I still wanted to know that I could place this sleeve inside a briefcase without a padded laptop compartment. Again, most padded laptop compartments in briefcases are synthetic. Also, they’re bulky. I preferred that I could stick this laptop in its sleeve inside either a canvas briefcase like a Filson or unpadded leather briefcase and not worry that the shock of setting the briefcase down on its base would cause damage to the bottom edge of the laptop facing the floor. 

This made me look for sleeves that had sufficient padding in its design along the base edge to act as a shock absorber. This is surprisingly hard — if not impossible — to find in most leather sleeves. If you look at most sleeves out on the market, they just offer a thin layer of leather along the base of the sleeve as the only form of protection. While it may protect from surface scratches, you’re not going to get any shock protection when the laptop is upright in an unpadded briefcase and hits the floor. So, this detail mattered a lot to me.

Furthermore, I wanted some added functionality in the sleeve that didn’t look superfluous. Some extra pockets would be nice and the closure system had to securely keep the laptop inside and not allow any accidental liquids inside if something was poured on top of it. Lots of sleeves have open tops, or zipper tops, which was a no-go for me. 

In the end, I knew I had to seek out someone to custom make me a laptop sleeve that looked great, was made from quality materials and could incorporate all my features I wanted. 

After looking at several leatherworkers on Etsy, I found Santi Leather, who operates out of Spain, who handmakes each item at their home studio and sources their leathers locally. 

I decided to base my modifications off of their 13” MacBook Pro leather sleeve design. It already had many great features that I wanted: a full flap over the top with secure snap closures; an extra pocket in the front to store a pen, phone and small notepad; and a felted interior to give protection against surface scratches on the laptop’s aluminum unibody enclosure. 

Fortunately, Santi Leather is completely open to design modifications. I asked if an open back pocket could be sewn on, to allow me to store some papers, magazine or notepad.

Additionally, I asked to have extra stitching along the bottom base of the sleeve to create a thick portion of leather to ask as a shock absorber. 

These design modifications added another $25 to the final price, which brought the final price with shipping to ~$146. Twenty days later I received the sleeve and I’m absolutely thrilled with it. 

Santi Leather has a whole range of sleeves for every single Apple device, from iPads, to iPhones to MacBooks (Pro and Air). They’ve even introduced a messenger bag

If you’re looking for a similar solution, then I recommend giving Santi Leather a serious look. Working with them was a great experience and they’re totally open to design modifications and ideas. I think their pricing is reasonable given that it’s handmade and the turn-around time (with shipping) is rather impressive. 

10
Jan

Review: The Knottery double-ring “Smith” brown suede belt — For a long time I’ve been searching for a moderately priced chocolate suede belt to wear with a pair of loafers and brogues in that color and could never find one that fit my budget. There are options available, but going north of the $100 pricepoint (or even approaching it) didn’t sit right with me for a belt I’d only wear some of the time, versus a belt in walnut tan leather, which matches most of my shoes.

Then The Knottery announced their (then) forthcoming line of belts and I was excited to see a chocolate brown suede one. So, the first day they became available, I bought one and have had the chance to wear it a few times now.

In short, it gets my thumbs up and approval. Their sizing recommendation to go 2” more than your waist size is dead on and the color matches quite well to my shoes.

My one point of caution is that when you initially receive it, the belt’s suede will rub off a bit and could potentially get on lighter-colored clothing (i.e.: white denim, light-colored chinos), so you may want to stick to using it with dark denim for the first few times. I had several pairs of shoes that did the same thing to me, so it’s not what I’d consider a huge concern.

Overall, it’s a great belt that looks nifty when worn casually. I’ve never actually owned a double-ring belt before, but I do really enjoy the ability to size to my waist exactly versus traditional belts that force you to be a more exacting size because of their punched holes.

A nice touch is The Knottery’s embossed logo on the inside of the belt, which was a detail I wasn’t expecting. The brass hardware feels substantial to me as well. The rings don’t seem cheap.

I’ve put in a suggestion for a sand suede number in the future and am crossing my fingers. For $55, this is a good buy. Get ‘em while you can, as The Knottery’s stock isn’t infinite.

14
Dec

Review: Howard Yount lambswool sweaters

If you live in a place that has a “real” winter, then I think that owning several sweaters for layering is a fairly essential wardrobe consideration, especially so if you’re wearing blazers or sport coats.

Of course, I was woefully neglectful of having them in my wardrobe for quite some time. I spent most of the fall looking at options and debating how much I wanted to spend and from whom I wanted to buy them from. I teetered back and forth between fabric types (merino wool, lambswool, cashmere, cashmere-wool blends, etc.).

But I always came back to one option and finally got around to buying two v-neck lambswool sweaters from Howard Yount.

The verdict: I shouldn’t have waited so long — and neither should you if they fit your budget and wardrobe needs. The price of $99 is extremely fair.

The fabric quality feels substantial. I don’t feel like it’s something I have to treat with gloved hands like cashmere, but I don’t feel like it’s lacking in superb softness either.

The fit is trim to the body (I’m a 38”-chest and ordered a size small) and hugs the chest nicely if you want to layer it under a jacket.

And, yes, they’re warm. I bought the burgundy and heather grey sweaters — and I really want to buy several more.

So, how do I plan on wearing them? Here’s two examples.

The burgundy looks great against a navy blazer and grey trousers. I’ve put it over a ecru OCBD and a wool-knit tie from The Knottery. This is a nice, conservative color scheme that can go just about anywhere.

For my grey sweater, I put it over a blue university stripe OCBD and with a polka-dot blue tie. White denim? Sure, why not? And a mossy green cashmere sport coat on top. It almost feels a bit monochrome and a bit out of season until you get a closer look at the textures. I think of it as a lighter, brighter contrast to all the super dark, black and grey colors you see worn in winter (seriously, does everyone have to have a black wool or nylon coat?) that is slightly more casual.

11
Oct

Review: Charles Tyrwhitt military captoe boots

Back in July, I bought these military captoe boots from Charles Tyrwhitt on super deep discount ($160), but hadn’t really gotten a chance to break them in and use them enough to feel comfortable reviewing them.

After a series of rainy days a couple of weeks back, I used them quite often and I’d say they’re definitely getting the job done and for the price I have no regrets about the purchase.

The facts on these boots are pretty straightforward: Goodyear welt, Dainite rubber soles, pebble full-grain leather and made in England. Finding shoes for $160 that fit that description isn’t usually easy to do, let alone a pair of boots.

In terms of comfort, it did take quite a few wears to fully break them in. The first time I tried lacing them up all the way to the top and tied them tight around my ankles. Well, my ankles could not bend at all which made walking painful and pretty much impossible. So, I loosened up my lacing at the top and now over time the leather’s broken in to allow for tighter lacing.

The walnut color is definitely a favorite of mine at the moment (currently own five shoes in that color), but the currently available pair is in a much darker brown. It depends on your preference, obviously, but I think either works well with most trousers and jeans.

I have noticed that over time the pebble grain has smoothed a bit along the toes. I’m not sure what this means in terms of the quality of the leather, but it’s something you should know. Also, I’ve yet to give these a polish and see how it reacts with some conditioner, but the leather from the beginning did feel quite stiff and now has begun to wear much easier.

Initially, I’d recommend some slightly thicker socks. I did wear some cotton socks, wool socks and some thick socks with them at various times, and can definitely say thick socks felt better. I have some mildly skinnier feet than the traditional medium “D” widths, but not quite enough to be a “C”, so thicker socks helped in the first few wears before it was broken in. Now, it’s gotten easy enough to wear with thinner socks, but there’s certainly room in the boot for thick wool socks come winter.

My primary reason for purchasing these boots was to deal with the slicker surfaces. They’ve held up well enough in rain and I imagine they’ll do well enough in the winter on ice. While I wouldn’t call them “rugged” in comparison to a pair of L.L.Bean boots, they’re probably going to be just fine for a mild snow, which is fine for my work commute.

In terms of pricing, obviously $160 is a good deal, but right now they’re selling for £179, which is about $280. Sub-$300, I think they’re a pretty good deal, but Charles Tyrwhitt does have a history of reducing prices throughout the season. Frankly, it’s up to you and how badly you need a pair — or if you want to take your chances and see if they have your size once they start hitting clearance prices. Just remember to buy from the U.K. site — not the U.S. site — because the prices are cheaper. Also, you should use the U.K. site and size down a full size from your U.S. size to get the U.K. size that fits. I’m a 10.5D US and got a 9.5F UK. For some dumb reason, their size charts only tell you to size down a half size, which to me seems way off.

For comparison’s sake, I stopped yesterday into the Allen Edmonds store located in downtown Chicago to see how the two’s boots compared. The AEs seemed to have a mildly better leather quality just based on my limited touch and handling of them. I wasn’t so much a fan of the lug sole on the Bayfield boot in comparison to the Dainite sole on the CTs — the profile just seemed off and too rugged.

Bottom line: Definitely get a pair if you can wait until they’re on sale. What price you think they’re worth is going to be fairly subjective, but I’d probably pay upward of $250 for these — especially if you’re looking for a Dainite sole over a leather sole.

+++

badscene replied:

What are your thoughts on the toe-box? It looks a little squared off in the picture.

From above, they don’t strike me as squared off, nor do they feel that way when I wear them.

26
Aug
Review of the Herring Shakespeare II double monk shoe by downeastandout — Click through to read the whole review and see additional photos. He does a side-by-side comparison with the Allen Edmonds Mora.

Review of the Herring Shakespeare II double monk shoe by downeastandout — Click through to read the whole review and see additional photos. He does a side-by-side comparison with the Allen Edmonds Mora.

10
Aug

Review: Fratelli Rossetti double monks

These Fratelli Rossetti double monks on Yoox arrived yesterday and while I think they’re a decent deal for the money and would like to keep them, I’m sending them back.

As I suspected, these definitely run a bit large. I’m typically a size 10.5D in most Allen Edmonds shoes (like the Strand), but ordered these in a size UK 9/US 10. To me, they fit more like a US 11. While they sort of fit, they’re a bit wide and my heel slips about a quarter-of-an-inch when walking in them. I think this is due to the elongated toe.

I do like the look of them a lot. The elongated, plain toe looks pretty sleek. The leather quality feels pretty smooth, however, I didn’t think it felt “tough” like the Allen Edmonds shoes I own. Definitely no breaking-in period would be necessary.

For those looking for a tight fit who have kinda-sorta skinny feet, I don’t think you’ll find it with these shoes. You can’t get the buckles past the second hole. While walking in them, it didn’t cut into my foot at all, which was nice, but it also didn’t feel secure on my feet. If you’re a guy with slightly wider feet, they might fit OK.

I’m no expert on stitching or construction, but I felt like it was below that of the Allen Edmonds Mora I used to own. The stitches around the vamp and straps felt kind of rough. Not terrible, mind you, but nothing super-refined either.

I believe the shoes are Blake stitched (not sure if it’s “rapid” or not). The interior was pretty comfortable, even to wear barefooted. If that’s important to you, then this shoe provides a comfy interior for bare skin.

My takeaway: If you have slightly wider feet, then these will work out for you. In terms of length, you definite want to size down 0.5 size, if not a full size. The $250 price tag isn’t bad and feels like a fair retail price for these, although I’d probably consider other shoes (non-double monks) instead before purchasing these myself. In comparison to other double monks, I definitely like the Moras better. But I doubt you’d find a comparable double monk for the same price.

Some would suggest you save up an additional $100-$150 and get something of a higher quality. If that’s an acceptable alternative for you, then I’d agree. I was pretty close to keeping these up until the heel slip while walking, fortunately that’s not a decision I have to make.

So, these are back off to Yoox.

(ADDING: Sorry for the poor photography. I’m shooting this at my office on my cellphone.)

25
Jul

Review: Biased Cut dress shirt

After a bit of an ordeal, my first custom-made dress shirt arrived from Biased Cut. In short, I’m pleased with it and would definitely order from Biased Cut again in the future. For this review, I wore the shirt pretty much the entire weekend, sweated in it, got caught in a rainstorm in it and spilled nachos on it. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t like wearing it.

Still, my praise is not without criticisms, none of which are what I’d call deal-breakers and they’re all easily resolved. The one thing I give Biased Cut enormous credit for is their customer service and willingness to take on additional customizations not listed on their site (more on this later).

The shirt fits me well. I should note that I took measurements off of another well-fitting shirt (one made by MyTailor.com) to use as a baseline for this shirt. If you don’t have a well-fitting shirt, then you’ll be forced to use the option of measuring yourself or using a few questions and basic neck/sleeve measurements to get a shirt. I can’t comment on the rest of these options because it’s not the route I chose to take.

Wearing the shirt, it’s comfortable and doesn’t feel too tight or restrictive. They have options for “slim” or “normal” fit, and I chose the “slim” option. The “normal” option will give you more room in the torso, bicep and armhole. If you’re used to the Brooks Brothers Extra Slim Fit line, then go with the “slim” option, because I feel they’re similar in some respects.

In regards to the back of the shirt, Biased Cut does two things — one of which actually alters the fit of the shirt. The first is to add darts on the back, which is something none of my other shirts have. You can request that they not add darts by emailing customer service after you place your order. I decided to give it a shot since it is a part of their idea of how the shirt should fit.

The darts definitely do reduce the blousing effect on the shirt’s back and waist area when tucked in. I’m overall not sold on darting my shirts just yet, but I can see the appeal. In terms of aesthetics, I’m just not sure if I like how it looks and as my tailor once commented, it can definitely remind one of a women’s shirt.

I will say that the darting doesn’t strike me as too visible or noticeable on this particular fabric (I chose the “Everton”, a light-blue steel chambray), but would probably make any sort of patterned shirt look odd when the pattern doesn’t line up along those seams.

The second signature of the Biased Cut shirt’s back is the full-length back pleat. As you probably know from all of your other shirts, this is really unusual and I’ve never seen this done elsewhere. Visually, it adds a line on your torso that creates some sort of vertical line down your back. Functionally, it does nothing. The pleat is non-functional and is just extra fabric that’s purely decorative. So, unlike a traditional back pleat that actually adds real bulk to a shirt’s back (usually to allow for extra movement), this is just there for looks.

I like the look of the full-length back pleat, however, one obvious downside to it came about when I had to iron my shirt after washing it. The pleat’s folds came undone and needed to be re-pressed. This was a bit frustrating to deal with and a bit of a hassle I hadn’t anticipated. For future orders, I will definitely ask that my shirts not have a full-length back pleat.

The shirt’s quality seems pretty good. The stitching looks much better than off-the-rack shirts I’ve bought before (Nordstrom, Brooks Brothers) and definitely better than any of my MTM shirts from Modern Tailor. I’d put the quality on par with MyTailor.

The buttons are mother of pearl and are securely sewn on. Unlike the Modern Tailor cuffs, these cuffs are soft and comfortable on the wrists, yet still have enough rigid structure to them to hold up. Oh, and they include a button on the sleeve plackets, which is nice.

One detail that I really enjoyed was how the top button of the shirt on the collar was actually smaller than the rest of the buttons on the placket. I assume this is for when you’re wearing a necktie that it doesn’t get in the way of the knot and add bulk. Not a big detail and definitely subtle, but still shows some extra thought went into that detail.

The collar itself was also pretty good. It felt stiff enough to stay up, but not like a cardboard box around your neck. I chose the standard spread collar and the length on it worked well enough with all my jackets. One thing I cannot stand is the trend toward shorter collars, which increases the likelihood of the dreaded collar gap — plus, thicker bladed neckties tend to stick out from under the collar, too. No worries about that here.

As I mentioned earlier, there are some more customizations you can do to your order that are worth knowing about. I think the approach Biased Cut gives its customers through its online user interface is one of simplicity. Pick a shirt, enter measurements, pick a few limited details and order it. Unlike a lot of other online MTM dress shirt sites, they have a lot less visible choices for customization. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get extra details and additions done or make special requests.

For instance, some shirts don’t come with a pocket. But you can request a pocket be added (I did for this shirt, and I find pockets are very essential functional elements for my EDC because they carry my calendar and pen).

You can also add a club collar or contrast collar (or both!) to any shirt. You can also have a non-contrast or non-club collar and have a “normal” collar using the same shirt fabric on any contrast or club-collared shirt. So, that’s worth noting and means you could get the Basso in a spread, bengal-striped collar.

As previously mentioned, you can ask that the full-length back pleat and darts not be included as well. And I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m sure you could ask that your button-cuffed shirt either have a mitred or rounded edge. As for any other customized details, I’d just ask them by sending an email before you order to see what’s possible.

Where do I place Biased Cut in comparison to other MTM online shirtmakers? I think Modern Tailor has a huge selection and quick turnaround time, but suffers from quality control issues that’s pretty much made me hesitate to use them again, even at sale prices. MyTailor is great for their optional, in-person service to take your measurements and let you consult fabric books. Their quality is also very good and their selection is huge. The downside, however, is the turnaround time of 6 to 8 weeks and their prices tend to be a little bit higher than Biased Cut.

So, I think Biased Cut hits a good compromise. They have the quality, they have a reasonable turnaround time of 3 to 4 weeks and the pricepoint sits lower than MyTailor. Their largest weakness is that they don’t offer a large amount of fabrics nor a lot of the crazy customization options you might see on other sites. Still, don’t let this distract you from the fact that if you have a well-fitting shirt to base your measurements off of and they have a fabric that is appealing to you (they certainly do stock the basics), then they’re a good deal.

I plan to use them again in the future (along with MyTailor) and will be keeping an eye out for the fabrics they’re stocking from season to season.

05
Jul

Review: Cerbero suede tassel loafers

I’ve been looking for a pair of suede tassel loafers for a while now. I wanted a more sleek design, however, wasn’t really looking to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair that I’d probably only wear through the summer. While some designs were really enticing, like Alden’s tassel moccasin, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. 

Enter Yoox and the Cerbero shoe brand.

I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical on the idea of shoes around the $100 price point from a brand whose website doesn’t offer very many details. From what their website says, they’ve been around since 1955 and do all their work in Italy (if anyone else has any other intel, please do share). Previously, L.A.S. had written about Cerbero double-monk shoes at Sartorially Inclined, but there’s not much solid information or reviews out there for this brand of shoes.

But I had a coupon code and Yoox had free shipping (plus it’s only $6 to do return shipping), so I figured I’d grab a pair in two different styles and see what they’re like. I got the ones shown above and also this pair (which I sent back: they felt tighter on my foot and the leather lining felt stiffer, plus the footbed’s stitching felt much more rough to wear barefoot).

For the pair I kept, I really liked them. They were comfortable to wear sockless and felt rather flexible. They have leather soles and I believe they’re “Blake” stitched (if someone can tell by the photos, please let me know if I’m right/wrong). While not unlined, the leather lining on these feels nice.

The moccasin toe stitching can’t be felt by my feet, which is nice. While not as comfortable as my Topsider boat shoes, they’re definitely getting there. I’ve worn them twice and walked around downtown Chicago on them for several blocks just to break them in a bit and they’ve yet to give me any blisters.

For the price ($125 on sale right now), I think they’re a decent deal. The model I got is in dark brown (chocolate) suede, but they also have grey, black and dark (midnight or navy) blue. There’s also several other non-tassel loafers and suede closed-toe captoes with or without semi-broguing.

You’ll probably want to avoid their regular leather shoes though, as they all look to be “corrected” grain leather, which the copywriters have spun as “polished” leather (if you’re not familiar with the terms, Put This On has a primer you should read). I’m not a suede expert, so I can’t comment on the quality of their suede, but it doesn’t strike me as any better or worse than my Clarks desert boots or vintage Polo bucks.

In terms of sizing, I’d size down at least a half size. I happen to be a 10.5D and sized down to a 10 after reading their shoes run a bit long (plus, I was planning on wearing them sockless).

Would I call these a steal? Probably not — more like a fair shoe for the price. I’d put in the realm of getting a pair of boat shoes from Sperry, a desert boot from Clarks or bucks from G.H. Bass. I wouldn’t call them an “investment” shoe, but a nice shoe at an alternative price.

About The Silentist

A menswear blog on finding your personal style, written by Kiyoshi Martinez.

I work at Khaki's of Carmel and live in the Monterey Bay area. Formerly from Chicago.

E-mail me, I'm fairly nice: thesilentist@gmail.com

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