Sunday, July 29, 2012

How Clothing Shapes our Attitudes

I like to write about this topic periodically, because in a nutshell, this is why I dress up. If it didn't matter how I dressed, why would I bother writing this blog or putting all the effort into my wardrobe that I do?

The reality is that (at least in my experience) the relationship between me and my clothes tends to inform my attitude. If I feel well-dressed, I feel comfortable and ready to take on the world. If I feel that I am under-dressed or look like a mess, I would much rather not leave the house, and will be likely inclined to be unproductive to boot.

This is why I keep going on about how dressing up is so awesome. When you take care and effort to put together an outfit, it isn't necessity that informs your decision, but rather your choice builds your journey. The attitude of needing an excuse to dress up is completely backwards. By dressing up, you create a reality in which anything is possible and in which beauty and harmony flow. Such a backdrop is a great consolation in our broken and crazy world.

As it turns out, I'm not the only person who feels like this. Interestingly enough, there is a movement in Africa (click here to read about the Sapeur movement) where people dress up in ways that one might not expect. By placing the outward appearance above necessities in life, many would presume such people are fools. However, it is quite the contrary: by creating an elevated state of being, they improve their quality of living in ways that simple utilitarian necessities cannot. (Although, I might encourage a bit more balance, budget-wise.)

I'm not going to suggest that clothing should be completely idolized, but when we use it as more than a lazy excuse against nakedness, there is much potential to be had. The realm of imagination and glorious happiness await those of us who refuse to believe that the goal in life is to wear the most dressed down piece of utilitarian cloth.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Colorful Belts, Cravat/Ascot, and Shoes!

I decided that I needed bespoke colored belts to go with my fun summer shoes. Because I couldn't really find these in stores, I decided to make them myself. As it turns out, it's not actually too hard to make these, although I may choose to use a different type of construction or closure on future belts for better performance (I think the belting may be too stiff for the silk, plus the D-rings create a good deal of wear).

The red shoes
First of all, I decided to make the red belt to go with my red shoes. I was wearing a polo and didn't have room for a red bow tie or cravat/ascot. As a result, the red shoes would have looked very odd without any other red in the outfit. Therefore, red belt to the rescue. As it turns out, I was on my way out the door when inspiration struck, so I took a piece of shiny polyester (I can't remember the exact type of fabric) and folded it over about four times and stitched either side of of it all the way down the length. I then made a loop at the end and inserted the D-rings. I later figured out that the D-rings need to be really close to one another or else they tend to undo themselves by rotating around each other when tension is applied.

Then I decided to finally wear my super awesome blue/orange shoes that I got a few months ago. However, the colors on their own are quite intense, so I wanted to make sure the look was well coordinated in my outfit. To keep the look simple, I wore the colors with my seersucker suit, so that the backdrop is mostly white, and therefore subtle against the bright colors.

The blue shoes with orange trim
For the belt, I used 100% silk in the color of the shoes. Realizing that the silk should be supported, I created a tube and inserted belting into it. I used the belting to measure the size of the tube and then went back a second time to make sure it was small enough.

Silk tube in progress next to belting used as liner
I went over it again to make sure I stitched close enough in
Then I cut the excess
When the edge was cut off I used a zigzag stitch on the edge to prevent fraying
Then I turned it right side out 
And stuffed it with the belting material
For complete instructions on how to make a 100% silk cravat, like the one below: please see my other blog posts on cravats. Sadly, I didn't take pictures of all the steps, particularly the first few. The reason for choosing orange silk is that I figured it would work nicely with the similarly colored trim on the shoes, therefore bringing the color up through the outfit. 

Trimming excess edge off seam in cravat/ascot
Adding zigzag stitch to edge to prevent fraying
Sewing completed, including hemming the ends 
Time to turn it right side out
Not pictured: once the cravat/ascot is right side out, it is necessary to steam it flat.

The resulting outfit at the office [Photo credit: Sally]
And same outfit at the end of another day [Photo credit: my girlfriend]

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pinterest: A Happy Addiction

It's official. I love Pinterest. In fact, I'm slightly addicted to it.

But that's ok. You ask me why? Because Pinterest is basically a happy place filled with beautiful things that make you smile. And it's a two-way street... you share lovely things and get others in return. It's like having happiness sent to you over the internet. If I use Facebook, I am interrupted by all sorts of inane silliness and sad world events. When I'm on Pinterest, I can relax and allow myself to be inspired (and desire everything that is pinned).

Because I enjoy it so much, I'd like to encourage those of you who are on Pinterest to follow me, so I can share with you and discover your happy pins in return! If you don't have an account, you can still take a look. Once you realize how awesome this is, ask a friend on Pinterest for an invite. I promise you will be happier.

My Pinterest Page:

I can't promise you won't become addicted; however, this is a good addiction.

Happy pinning!
Screenshots of a few of my pins:

Yes, I know I'm in here... but so are some of my favorite bloggers such as Kate from All This Happiness and  Casey of Elegant Musings

Friday, July 20, 2012

Guide for Men's Business Dress

Dear readers, allow me to enter the foray of work-clothing advice. I feel there is mass confusion on the topic and that it is high time to restore decorum and common-sense.

As readers of my blog know, I take a relatively conservative stance on dress. This is for various reasons, including my aristocratic tendencies. However, beyond my predilections for old dress, there is a value to a well-constructed wardrobe that encourages a professional image and demands respect.

The point with a business wardrobe is to be at the point where respect and practicality meet. This allows your wardrobe to be comfortable and yet functional as you enforce the image of competency you project with your daily actions.

To this effect, because many people of my generation (and following generations) have grown up dressing extremely casually, it appears that a general guide may be of use to avoid a number of pitfalls that I have observed or had mentioned to me over the last few years.

To begin, let's also remember that in every industry, there are varying expectations. In construction, you will likely wish to focus on clothing that protects you, in fashion you may get away with more artsy/whimsical outfits, and some places are just generally more laid back.

However, for the purposes of this guide, we will assume you work in a more conservative office and that your superiors would appreciate you showing up in something beyond a t-shirt and shorts paired with flipflops. Just because this is 2012, doesn't mean you can wear the outfit that would be ok in a club or your dorm lounge to the office. If your office is more modern/casual, you can still apply some of the tips to spruce up your business classiness.

I'm going to break this into tips for both men and women (the women's guide will be posted soon once I have finished reviewing it). The fashion crimes aren't always the same, but invariably, there are points to be made. This guide is also meant as a starting point, as once you master the basics, you will learn how you can be more creative and stretch the rules in good ways. I like to add extra color to my wardrobe in the summer, but I try to make sure it's within the guidelines of a well put together outfit.

Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Elegance, Guide for Men's Business Dress:

Let's get some things out of the way quickly. Here is a list of things NOT to wear:

  • Flip Flops / Sandals
  • Shorts. Are you in the Bahamas? If not, don't do it.
  • Wife beater / sleeveless undershirts. Ideally, we should not see your undershirt too much. A wife beater style shirt is extremely obvious and unflattering. Also, I assume you know that undershirts should be worn under a dress/sport shirt.
  • Ill-fitting clothing / baggy clothing / clothing that sags below the hips. I'm sure you like your underwear just as much as we like not having to see it in public. 
  • Denim that isn't dark. If you can avoid denim altogether, even better. (I personally dislike denim, but paired with a nice blazer, it often passes for business-appropriate nowadays.)
  • Clothing with holes. Nobody cares how on-trend you are. You look like an idiot.
  • Excessively tight trousers. I don't want to know how big your wallet is or if you're turned on by the girl you're talking to.
  • Excessively wrinkled clothing. I get that you didn't have time to iron--don't make it look like you scrunched it up and sat on it for a week before deciding to pull it out to wear.
  • Belts + Suspenders = huge fashion crime. Pick one or the either, please.
  • Pre-tied bow ties. I gentleman knows how to tie his own bow ties and neck ties (clip-ons and pre-tied bow ties are for children). It's not hard, there are plenty of guides available online. Also, practice makes perfect, so do it a few times so you're ready when you need it!
  • T-shirts are underwear. If you're wearing a t-shirt and it isn't an undershirt, you're probably too casual for more traditional office environments. Showing up with a comic book hero on your torso, probably isn't a great move if you want to impress.
  • GQ Magazine: If your office is more traditional, be careful with some of their trend ideas (most offices will not be pleased to see you wearing lace-ups with a suit and no socks). Otherwise, you can use some of their creative tips. Personally, I prefer Esquire Magazine when it comes to style (or better yet, classic men's fashion blogs and forums such as Ask Andy About Clothes).
  • Tennis / athletic shoes. I understand you might find them more comfortable during transit, but avoid wearing them in the office if you can help it! I remain convinced that comfortable yet classy shoes exist. :)

Now that we have that covered, here are some things you can do to improve your wardrobe:

  • Buy non-ironed dress shirts. These will save you time and money.
  • Hang your shirts, trousers, and suit coats/blazers/sportcoats. This will prevent/reduce wrinkles. Some items may even lose their wrinkles if you hang them properly for a long enough time.
  • Get a travel steamer. These are great, because you can arrive at a destination with wrinkled up clothes from your suitcase and emerge shortly afterwards looking nicely pressed. Also, they are safe to use on wool and silks, unlike irons. Very handy!
  • Buy clothing in your size. Don't guess. Get someone to measure you at a proper men's retailer and help you find your exact size.
  • Find a Tailor / Have Alterations Made. When the clothing isn't exactly your size, get it taken in, you will look great. Work clothing isn't meant to automatically fit your body off the rack, some of it will need adjustment.
  • Buy natural fibers when possible. The lower the synthetic content, the better your clothes will feel and look. Want to know who is wearing polyester? Look for the guy with lint balls on his trousers.
  • Wear the right undershirt. If you're wearing a tie or bow tie, wear a crew neck undershirt. If you're wearing a dress shirt without a tie, wear a V-neck undershirt. The point is to make it less obvious. Also, undershirts help protect your dress shirts from sweat stains, helps them stay cleaner longer, and gives them increased life.
  • Buy quality clothing. Remember, it's not having lots of clothes that matters. It's having clothes that are worth being seen in that matters. Additionally, if your clothing is constantly wearing out, it will cost you more money having to replace them continually than if you got something that was well constructed in the first place. If you can't afford a large wardrobe, start with a few essential pieces that you can pair with different accessories.
  • Essential pieces: Navy/dark grey suit/slacks, tan slacks are nice too (good for summer, and providing extra color in your wardrobe), navy blazer (goes well with most color trousers except navy and black), white dress shirts (long sleeves!), etc.
  • Leather shoes. Dress shoes should generally be leather. If you can get them with leather soles too, you will find they look even more classy. Leather soles wear evenly and therefore don't look like the keels of boats once you've been wearing a pair for a while. The drawback is that they wear faster than rubber soles.
  • Match your colors! Socks should normally match your trousers. Belts should generally match your shoes. Ideally your pocket square (should you wear one) should be complementary to your tie, but not the exact same pattern. Try to keep from wearing conflicting patterns that cause a dizzying effect. Make sure you have sufficient contrast and that your colors look good next to each other. Also: black and navy trousers/blazers do NOT go together.
  • Galoshes / Overshoes. Protect the investment you make in your shoes. Rain is bad for them, and wet feet are not comfortable. Slide these on when you walk out the door and your problems disappear on both fronts!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

François Hollande's First US Visit + July 14th Celebration

Dear readers... I apologize for the long delay in writing. I have so many new things to tell you and yet have been so busy lately that I haven't gotten them written down so far.

First, today I'm going to share my recent happenings at the French Embassy, and soon I will also write about recent sewing projects, some film/style reviews, and continue my Europe 2011 series!

So, without further delay, let's begin with the first thing... François Hollande's first visit to the United States as President of the French Republic. While Hollande did visit Germany right after is election, he didn't actually have time to address French citizens there. Conveniently, during his US visit, he did have enough time to come and give a speech to us French citizens. The room was absolutely packed!

Finally he showed up!

He gave the usual bilateral relations speech, congratulated French organizations, and gave a shout out to the French high school in the area, etc. He also employed a bit of humor and managed to get some jabs in at his predecessor.

Overall, it was enjoyable, except for the amount of time waiting in a room with inadequate air conditioning. It was really hot in there!

I love how someone was trying to use their iPad to take pictures

And go figure, the Secret Service was directing traffic
Secondly, I returned again to the French Embassy for the 14th of July (Fête Nationale) celebrations! My girlfriend and I (Surprise! And yes, this is partly why I've been absent from the blog lately!) enjoyed a lovely evening with food and drink, and were able to meet up with many French friends of mine and meet new people! I also ran into a lovely lady with her husband and children who is a reader of this blog! I love discovering people who have checked out what I write! :)
Me and my girlfriend with Christine Lagarde... I'm wearing my new linen jacket, incidentally
Anyhow, the highlight of the evening was probably meeting Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF! Sadly, we didn't get much time, but it was pretty exciting! :)