29 June 2014

Some thoughts about trends and fashion

Most of the industry producing clothes, shoes and accessories is driven by trends and fashion. Companies are either trying to be trend setters and decide what's going to be the next fashion, or they are jumping on current fashion trends. No matter what approach they take it's all done to tell people that whatever they bought last year is no longer in fashion and that it's necessary to get all the latest items to be able to fit in. The media is also proclaiming this way of thinking about clothes. Be it television, magazines or newspapers, the concern is always with what's in fashion or what's thought to come into fashion next season. This is, of course, good for business and a lot of people buy into this. Many people actually feel they need to be fashionable to fit in to the particular group or environment they are trying to be part of.

Although good for business, is this system good for anything else? I'm not so sure if it is, and there are clearly many negative sides to this. From an individual's point of view, always following the fashion will prevent the individual from really developing an own style. Properly thinking through what you wear and why you wear it also becomes unnecessary as the decisions are continuously being made for you by the manufacturers. It is, of course, also expensive to always having to restock your wardrobe. If you look at it from a slightly wider perspective, there are many things that are problematic with the fashion system. From an environmental point of view it is disastrous as it creates an enormous over production as everybody always needs to have all the latest items, and it also creates more waste than imaginable as unfashionable items are thrown away. Fashion is also the enemy of quality. There is no real need for quality and craftsmanship in a product which is expected to be out of fashion withing six to twelve months. In search for the highest possible profits, little emphasis is put on creating acceptable working conditions and wages for the people actually making the products. There is plenty of evidence of fashion items being produced under appalling conditions. Quality suffers under this system as the products aren't meant to last and craftsmanship is not valued. Think about this next time you're going to buy something. Are you buying the right thing?

I'll be the last one to suggest one should stop buying things and having a full wardrobe should never be seen as a bad thing, but don't fill it up with poor quality stuff you will only use a handful of times. This is a realisation I've gradually come to during the last decade. I have no idea how many pieces of clothing or shoes I've bought just because it was cheap. Items that I didn't really want and had no plan for when to wear. Poor quality stuff that filled up the wardrobe but didn't really improve it.  I am proud to say that these days I manage to contain myself and it is now several years since I bought something just for the sake of buying it. I've also become passionate about quality and craftsmanship and I try to do what I can to convince people that these things are important, and that style beats fashion every time.
Below are a few point I think it's worth following when shopping.
  • Never buy an item you don't think you'll be wearing at least two years later.
  • Always buy the best possible quality you can afford. Even though quality items are more expensive, buying quality products are likely to be cheaper in the long run as they last much longer.
  • Don't confuse famous and expensive brands with quality as the correlation is not always there.
  • Don't buy an item just because it's on sale. Think about it twice and make sure you only buy it if you really think you'll be wearing it for a long time. 

Help improving the world by being more conscious about what you buy and what you wear!

9 June 2014

Arm bands, invaluable with off-the-rack shirts

I am aware that the opinions on shirt arm bands or sleeve garters are divided. Some seem to think they are items of the past and others seem to find it embarrassing to wear them. The embarrassment seems to stem from the thought that arm bands are signalling that you can't afford to buy bespoke shirts or have your off-the-rack shirts altered. Personally I think this is rubbish. I see the arm bands as one of the essentials for any gentleman.
One of the most important things with a shirt's fit is the sleeve length in relation to the sleeve length of the jacket. The shirt sleeves should be slightly longer than the jacket sleeves, so that the shirt cuffs are always showing when wearing a jacket. How much cuff should be shown is a matter of personal taste but I think anything between one and three centimetres is acceptable. This is, however, difficult to achieve unless you have the perfect, fully bespoke wardrobe with complete consistency in sleeve lengths of all your jackets and shirts. This scenario applies to hardly no anyone, so the solution is arm bands. 
The arm bands are one of those things that you wear to create consistency in how you dress and to get the details of dressing well correct. The arm bands should, however, not be shown and there is no need for anyone to know that you're wearing them. They should be worn over your shirt sleeves, I like to wear them just below the elbow, on the thickest part of the lower arm. Some people like to wear them on the upper arm, this all depends on what you're most comfortable with. They should only be worn when you're wearing a jacket. Without the jacket they lose their function, unless you need to pull your shirt sleeves up in order to protect your cuffs when doing work with your hands. I sometimes find it useful to use the arm bands to keep the shirt cuffs as far up as possible when I'm cooking. Anyway, when worn to keep a consistent and correct amount of cuff to be shown below the jacket sleeves, there is no need to wear the arm bands if you should happen to take your jacket off. 

My arm bands.
Invaluable for showing a consistent amount of shirt cuff.
Photo: AGL

I bought my arm bands from one of the shirt makers in Burlington arcade, London, but it may be more convenient to get yourself a pair online, like these sold by TM Lewin.

These arm bands are available from TM Lewin for as little
as £10, a small price to pay for a significant style

The arm band worn right below the elbow will
keep the shirt cuffs at the correct length.
Photo: AGL

2 June 2014

The Panama hat: stylish, practical and more versatile than you might think

We are fast approaching Panama hat season, if not already well into it. If you don't have a Panama, or need/want a new one, it's high time you start looking for one. Last spring I bought myself my first Panama and that exceeded all my expectations. I had always thought of the Panama as a kind of specialised object, a hat for the few and not a hat suitable for me. But what did I know? Not much, about the Panama hat anyway. What I've come to understand is that the Panama hat is probably one of the most versatile of hats, pretty much only restricted by the weather. Whenever the sun is out, a Panama hat is the perfect accessory. It is practical as it provides protection from the sun, but more importantly, it is incredibly stylish and is capable of lifting just about any outfit. A Panama looks great with a linen or seersucker suit, or light pinstripe as shown is this previous post. A Panama is also perfect with a more casual outfit like a boating jacket and a pair of chinos, and even if you were to wear a short sleeved shirt and a pair of tailored shorts it looks good. This is why I think the Panama is more versatile than most hats. However, there is one thing I would like to point out, and this is important. When you buy a Panama hat, go for quality! This doesn't mean you should buy the most expensive hat, but buy it from someone who knows what they're selling. A "Panama" bought at the local souvenir shop or from a beach vendor will never look good, so if you're serious about style, please don't. As I will show you, Panama hats come at all prices but there are good quality hats available at very reasonable prices, mine, I think, is a good example of this.

The hat I bought last spring was from Panama Hats Direct and I will use this company and their products as  examples in my following discussion of weave quality, pricing and hat models. There are, of course, many other providers of Panama hats, so if you think you'd be better off with another company there are several on my list of providers of gentleman's accessories.

Since we've already touched on the topic of price and quality I will start with this. With Panama hats the price always correspond with the quality of the weave. The finer the weave, the more expensive the hat. Brent Black (on his website) talks about hats so finely woven that they are works of art and may cost as much as $25000. Such hats are not for the average gentleman and may not even be meant to be worn, but there are very good alternatives. For as little as $150 or £100 you can get a good quality hat that I'm certain will serve you well.

It is difficult to define the different grades of quality of Panama hats but there are normally four different qualities. The names of the grades differ between companies but at Panama Hats Direct the basic grade of weave is called "sub fino" and best quality weave is called "fino fino" and in between you find the "fino" and the "super fino" grades. I was very uncertain when I was going to order my Panama last year. I had no experience with the different qualities but I'm usually reluctant to go for the poorest quality so decided against the "sub fino". Since it was my first Panama I also didn't want to spend too much as I wasn't sure how well I would like it. What I ended up with was the "fino" grade and I haven't regretted that choice. Quite frankly I was very positively surprised when I got the hat, if this is the second poorest quality I wonder what the higher grades look like. Even if it was only a "fino" grade I thought the quality was excellent and I still do. However, the next hat I buy will probably be in one of the two higher grades, simply because I always like buy something better and since I like the Panama as much as I do I don't mind spending little extra.

Sub Fino
Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website

Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website

Super Fino
Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website

Fino Fino
Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website
Deciding on the quality is one thing but just as important, or possibly even more important is deciding on what model to get. Of the ten models available at Panama Hats Direct there are three models which I think are the most stylish and versatile, the two Fedora models and the Trilby. These are the models I think are the easiest to wear and will be perfect for just about any occasion.

The model I bought was the Trilby but this should not be confused with the nearly brimless, bucket like, Trilby which has become so popular lately. My Trilby has 2.8 inch brim which makes all the difference.

Fedora 1
Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website


Fedora 2
Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website


Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website

Another model I really like is the Optimo and this is probably the model I will get when I decide to order a new one. The Optimo is the oldest model and is the ideal fold up model. The crease across the crown makes it possible to fold the hat together and roll it up for transport. If you get this model, don't forget to get a tube you can transport the the rolled up hat in. The hat should, however, never be kept rolled up for long periods at the time as this will damage the hat. 

Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website

Two other models which are quite nice, but more specialised, are the Havana and the Plantation models. They generally have a wider brim and are appropriate if you live in a very sunny environment. Living in northern Europe I don't think this would be a good choice.

Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website


Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website
The four remaining models are the Bowler, the Center Dent, the Gambler and the Patron. These are hats I think I would have a problem wearing. Not because they aren't nice hats but because they require the occasion and style to be correct and it it very easy to get it wrong and then you can end up looking silly instead of stylish. If you think you can pull it off, good luck to you!

Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website

Center dent
Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website

Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website

Photo taken from the Panama Hats Direct website
The hats from Panama Hats Direct are hand made to order in Montecristi in Ecuador. Montecristi is the home of the Panama hat and where they were originally made. From the name one could be led to believe that these hats were made in Panama but the reason they are called Panama hats is that they were originally sold and exported to the rest of the world through Panama.

When you order a hat you will have to give them you head measurement and the hat will be made for you. This will ensure that you will get a hat that fits perfectly even in if you are in between traditional hat sizes. The fact that the hats are made in Montecristi and that the hats are shipped directly to the customer from Ecuador explains why you can get a top quality hat for a very reasonable price.

I would like to finish this post by showing some photos and say a few words about of the Trilby hat I bought. The first I would like to say about the hats from Panama Hats Direct is that the brim may not be shaped the way you want it when you buy it. As you can see in the first photo below the brim is bent upwards all the way around. I prefer to have the brim bent downwards in the from and upwards in the back, so I had to shape it that way. This is, however, very easy and, if you need it, you'll find information about forming the hat on their website and there's plenty of information available if you do a google search. You may think it's a problem that the brim is not shaped in advance, but the way I see it is that this rather gives you the opportunity to personalise your hat and shape the brim to your own preferred specifications. You can see what my hat looks like now in this previous post.    
My Trilby hat as it was when I received it with the brim unshaped.
Photo: AGL
I was very pleased with the quality of the weave of the fino grade.
Photo: AGL
The has been shaped to my liking.
Photo: AGL

The inside of the hat is beautifully lined with a silk lining and a very soft and comfortable leather sweatband.
The silk lining inside the hat.
Photo: AGL

The soft leather sweatband makes the hat very comfortable to wear.
Photo: AGL
All in all I love my Panama hat and I think it is the perfect summer accessory, and Panama Hats Direct was the perfect provider for me both with regard to quality and price. I am already looking forward to ordering my Optimo, not sure when it's gonna be though.