Spring/Summer Style Essentials

With the turn of the seasons, it’s imperative to stay at the top of your style game, while accommodating for the changes in the weather.

With winter having slowly released its cold grasp on the world, dark, somber layers melt away one by one, and light and color begin to emerge and play. Spring is a time for lighter colors, for pales and pastels, as well as beginning to implement the louder, bolder pieces seen in the summer. As the warm weather and beating sun approaches, pastels in lighter weaves will keep you cooler, while the stronger colored pieces help life explode off your clothes, preparing you for summer.

Outerwear

During spring, there will always be those “April shower” days, where the rain complicates an otherwise mild day. It’s at these times that it’s imperative to own a lightweight coat, such as a trench or a mackintosh. These classic coats will allow you to stay dry even in the heaviest rains, while opting for one without lining will keep you from overheating. A trench coat is traditionally a long, double breasted coat adorned with epaulets and a belt used to cinch the waist in. They are often made from a type of treated cotton or wool, known as gabardine, that makes the garment waterproof. Be cautious with a trench coat though, as it has quite a controversial reputation. Remember, trench coats are formal coats meant to be worn over suits, and will look out of place if worn otherwise. For those who prefer a less buttoned-up, more modern alternative to the trench coat, a mackintosh resembles a stripped down, single breasted deconstructed of the trench, and is just as functional. It may not be as warm, however, as is the nature of single versus double breasted garments.

Light Jackets

For the days where the wind is slightly nippy yet the outside air isn’t entirely freezing, a light jacket is imperative. There are a variety of jackets to choose from, and each compliments a certain style. My favorite lightweight jacket is a harrington jacket. A harrington is very much like a bomber jacket, with the main difference being the mandarin-like buttoned collar, and an umbrella vent on the back to direct water away from the wearer. Most harringtons, like bombers, have elasticized cuffs and hems that tighten around the wrist and the waist. They are often made of a cotton synthetic blend, that allows them to be wind and waterproof, and feature slanted flapped pockets on each side that are able to be buttoned shut. Harringtons are lightweight and windproof without being too stuffy, but don’t expect them to hold up against real cold weather.

For those less preppy and looking for a more street style, consider the bomber jacket, the harrington’s dressed down cousin. Bomber jackets have their history in the air force, and have come a long way since. They are a cropped, waist-length jacket with elasticized cuffs and hems, as well as an elasticized collar. Traditionally, bombers will feature a pen pocket on the left tricep. They are made mostly with a cotton and nylon blend, though some are made of 100% cotton (this makes them lose their water-resistant properties), and even some in wool. There is hardly a men’s clothing store that doesn’t sell a bomber nowadays, and they come in all different fits and materials. Traditionally, bombers are quite padded, and as a result fit very boxy or puffy; these bombers are the ones that will keep you the most warm. Slim fit bombers do exist, of course, and naturally offer a cleaner look while sacrificing warmth.

Some may prefer yet a more ruggd, outdoorsy look, and it is here that field jackets or hunting jackets come into play. The classic M65 field coat is yet another garment with its roots in the US military. On the other side of the Atlantic we have the reowned Barbour waxed cotton jacket. Barbour jackets are all constructed from a 6 oz waxed cotton or Sylkoil, feature handwarmer pockets lined in moleskin, bellows pockets with drainage holes, and are immediately recognizable due to their cordouroy collar. Barbour jackets come in multiple designs; the most classic being the Bedale and the Beaufort. The Beaufort is a shooting jacket, featuring large game pocket in the rear, accessible via zipper on either side, nylon cuffs with velcro fastenings, and is about three inches longer than the Bedale. The Bedale, created for riding, has a slimmer fit and rear vents, as well as knitted woolen storm cuffs, intended the keep the rain out of your arms. I recommend that if you’re a shorter man (5’9″ or shorter), select the Bedale over the Beaufort If you prefer a slimmer jacket, the Barbour Ashby is akin to a slimmer Bedale. For a more coat-like jacket, the Border is like a long Beaufort.

Shirting

Linen is the savior of Summer. Maybe I’m being hyperbolic, but I’ve yet to wear a shirt that’s more lightweight, more breathable, and cooling as one made of linen. Yes, linen wrinkles, but that’s an integral part of linen; a part of its appeal. Cotton may yet be softer and smoother, but it cannot match the ventilation that linen offers. Linen is, however, fairly abrasive and may wear uncomfortably, and for many lightweight cotton shirts in broadcloth or poplin weaves are preferable. These shirts are easier to maintain a pristine look in, and at the end of the day, with their sheen and smooth textures, are easier to dress up than the casual, more textured linen shirts. That being said, you do sacrifice a bit of breathability in the heat, but for most people, that difference is negligible. Either way, linen and cotton poplin shirts are fantastic garments to beat the heat.

On the casual end of the spectrum, pique polos are always a Spring and Summer staple. Polos are a bit controversial, being associated mostly with college frat boys and unstylish dads. That being said, when polos fit well, they can really accentuate a good physique, and can be much more relaxed than a stuffy button-up. The short sleeves and pique knit make them effective at keeping you cool, just make sure they aren’t made of polyester, which will seal in heat. Wear them to a barbecue or a relaxed night on the beach, and enjoy life!

Trousers/Pants

In the same vein as shirting, linen can be an extremely cool, laid back option for trousers. Make sure they aren’t lined, as a lining completely negates the benefits of linen garments, especially since many linings are made of synthetics that trap heat instead of ventilating. Having never owned linen trousers before, I can’t speak for how well the center crease stays, but I imagine the ease of wrinkling may mean that many a trip to the press are to be made.

Spring and Summer are great times to bring out lightweight chinos in brighter colors. Colors like cream and sky blue are evocative of the sea and nautical themes, and can factor into a very strong preppy wardrobe.

I’m personally of the mindset that shorts are for the beach and for at-home lounging only. That being said, bright, loud colors have no better home in a preppy outfit than on shorts. Bright blues, nantucket reds, and go-to-hell yellows can add flair to one’s outfit and really make it pop. Make sure it hits above the knee, though.

Shoes

Go sockless! Or at least put on some no-shows. Spring and Summer is a great time to finally tan those ankles that have been hiding for months. Low-top white sneakers are an all-season standard, of course, and are absurdly versatile. I’ve yet to see an outfit where white sneakers don’t work well with it.

A preppier nautical alternative is boat shoes, or the plethora of boat shoe-inspired moccasins. Make sure though, that you never wear socks with these.

If you want to dress up slightly, but you don’t want the added heat that comes with a stuffy lacing system, loafers are a great option. You slip them on, and you’re good to go. They can be dressed up all the way to business-casual, and in some circles of the world, can even go as far as being paired with a suit.

Summer is also a great time to introduce colors and textures. Suede or Nubuck open-laced shoes, known as bucks, are perfectly at home in the Spring and Summer, due to their texture and their brighter colors.

Accessories

Whenever wearing a watch in hotter temperatures, a simple nylon band will be more breathable than a stainless steel bracelet or a leather strap, both of which can quickly get stuffy in the heat. A NATO or Perlon strap will allow you to add a bit of livelihood and color to show off as well. Striped NATO bands have been on the rise within the past several years, starting with Daniel Wellington watches and the Prep movement at the forefront. Even James Bond, style icon for many, wears his watches with striped NATO bands.

Eye protection is incredibly important whenever you step outside, not only against the harshness of the light that may cause eye strain, but also against the ultraviolet light on your eyes. I prefer sunglasses with polarized lenses, which block out the glare from reflected light. Options include the ubiquitous Ray-Bans, Persols, and many others. You can pick your lens shape based on your face shape; I recommend the Wayfairer or Clubmaster styles. I won’t get into the whole Luxicotta thing, but for those who don’t support the company and their damn-near monopoly over glasses, options are Tom Ford, Warby Parker, and others.

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Review: Allen Edmonds Carlyle

Let’s face it: Allen Edmonds Park Avenues are cliche. Everywhere I go, the black cap toe oxford is a style that is oppressively pervasive. So you can imagine my distaste for the Park Avenues when I decided to buy my first black dress shoe. I always found the cap toe, while serviceable, too stylistically constricting for my purposes. Instead, I opted for the sleeker, more modern, plain toe Carlyles, that I could dress down with chinos or polish to a mirror shine and dress up to black tie. I picked them up last winter during the AE Factory Seconds sale, and they have been on my feet a handful of times since then.

Having a skinnier and more elongated last, the Carlyles fit a bit tight on my wide feet. I went for a size 7.5E, but now I suspect I may need an 8E. More on that later. The shape of the Carlyles is very attractive, with smooth lines and gentle, sloping curves. European shoes are still much neater, but there is something distinctly less “American” about the shape of the Carlyles, at least to my eyes.

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Sleek and elegant is the Carlyles’ game.

Out of the box, I thought the texture and surface of the calf felt kind of strange; the calfskin leather was a bit stiff and felt finished, and was not nearly as supple as that of my Chester wingtips. I chalked this up to the fact that they were new, and had not been broken in yet, and they were likely holding on to some sort of factory finish.

The construction is Allen Edmonds. You know what to expect. They’re solidly made goodyear welted shoes, nothing overly luxurious but decent quality nonetheless. They feel like they can take a beating and still be polished right back up to scratch. One thing that does bother me is the finishing on the edges of the leather pieces; not only are they not dyed and contrast against the black leather, but it also looks like they’re fraying slightly, and whether that’s how they are or it’s a blemish it is still very much a problem.

The laces are flat waxed laces, which I feel are easier to dress up than the typical waxed round laces you see on most dress shoes.

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Closeup of the laces. Also a nick by the second eyelets.

Due to being seconds, the Carlyles have a myriad of hairline flaws and blemishes, including a few nicks and scratches and an odd crease mark near the right heel. As I wear these and polish them, however, I do not doubt that they will begin to blend right in.

Formal oxfords are unique in that as far as the unadorned, dressy end of the spectrum, the wholecut, the cap toe, and the plain toe all suffer from subjective formality. Some people will consider the cap toe the most formal shoe one can own, while others may consider the wholecut to be yet more formal. However what is important to consider is context: wholecuts may be appropriate on a dinner suit, but are completely out of place in an office room. With the Carlyle you have much more versatility, but there are always nuances, pros, and cons to each.

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The most noticeable blemish I’ve seen, by the welt.

Without the rigid line of the toe cap, plain toe and wholecut oxfords both suffer from the same problem: garishly noticeable creasing. Now that’s not to say that creasing should not happen. Creasing absolutely happens. It’s a foolish idea to want to prevent any creasing whatsoever as a shoe will naturally crease with wear. However, some shoes will inevitably look better with creasing than others. A toe cap serves not only as a bit of construction for the crease to form around, but also frames the creasing between the line where the cap ends and the vamp begins. Without this bit of framing, the creases break the otherwise uninterrupted curve of a plain toe. To me this looks unattractive and crude.

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The aforementioned rear crease. With the way the light hits it, it’s barely noticeable.

Perhaps I need to break in the Carlyles more. Perhaps the creasing will soften up as more creases develop and the leather molds more to my feet. After all, I’ve worn them a little over ten times. Regardless, upon examining the creasing, I noticed the distinct line, right about where a cap toe would begin. I’ve always heard that the hardest of creasing should be on the widest part of the shoe, yet this is far from the widest part. Perhaps I sized incorrectly. 7.5E felt snug with a slight bit of heel slip; maybe 8E would be more appropriate width-wise, but it would only exacerbate the length issue. Sizing with differences in lasts is tricky. If you intend to buy the Carlyles, keep this in mind if you’ve only owned one other pair of shoes.

Ultimately, Allen Edmonds on sale are still some of the best bang-for-your-buck dress shoes money can buy. At this level, I can only nitpick, and for $200, the grievances I may have with the shoes are negligible.

On Black Shoes

Safe. Modest. Conservative. Formal. These are some of the words I frequently hear tossed around to describe black shoes. Black shoes are, in essence, the quintessential business shoe. Enter the Allen Edmonds Park Avenue. Ask around internet forums and style blogs, and nine times out of ten, someone will inevitably recommend a man’s first dress shoe to be some variation on this style; a black closed-lace cap toe. Whether it be Meermin, the aforementioned Allen Edmonds, Loake, Crockett and Jones, you name it, the black cap toe oxford has found its place in our offices and is here to stay.

That being said, has it become the only place for the black shoe? Dig a little deeper. What more do you hear? Boring. Prudent. Somber. Inflexible. Black shoes, the cap toe notwithstanding, have been condemned by the fashion-oriented as conformist and too formal to function outside of office attire, being replaced in lieu of various shades of brown to the tenth degree, ranging from the bright, flashy walnuts to the understated and classy bourbon tones. Even the rich sanguine oxblood and deep burgundy tones have exploded onto the feet of members in the fashion world.

But that doesn’t mean black doesn’t have a place.

Consider this a return to form; an analysis, so to speak, of the various uses of a black shoe. Yes, it is true that black is traditionally a formal, business color, but black shoes can be dressed down and up for a powerful, elegant look. First and foremost, black is a color that demands respect. It is a color that denotes that one takes his or her self seriously, and puts effort into their lives and the things they do. Because of their formality, black shoes are often unadorned and simple, leading to a sleek and refined silhouette. After all, there is a reason that Black Tie necessitates the use of black shoes.

If you’ve ever taken an interest in English formalwear, then you no doubt have heard the phrase “no brown in town.” I always wear my worsted wools and my darker city colors with black shoes. Black footwear contributes to the color gradient of the suit; it doesn’t disrupt the clean lines and flow of the suit and effectively keeps the suit grounded by connecting it to not only the ground, but the shadows you cast on it. Wearing walnut with a navy suit, for example, does the opposite, projecting high contrast that draws attention to your footwear instead of the outfit as a cohesive whole. It is a very flashy and fashionable look, and in that sense works with the outfit, despite contradicting the very basis of a suit. A suit is meant to be visually appealing, by building and emphasizing both the lines of the human body and the masculine silhouette. The contrast breaks these lines apart and segments your body into three distinct pieces: top, bottom, and shoes (assuming you are using a belt). Black is powerful, it is understated and it is refined, as opposed to the more rakish and flamboyant browns.

Even outside of the realms of tailoring, it is wholly possible to wear black without being utterly formal. Although here is a place where browns would be far more versatile, you can, dress black down with chinos, or take off the suit jacket in place for a casual jacket, and so on. Black does not have to be a color reserved for suiting.

At the end of the day, there will always be people who will favor the brown shoe over the black, but that’s the beauty of menswear: it’s a subjective art, and one where everyone can see one another’s expressions of their own selves with the clothes they wear.

Review: Nordstrom 1901 Calgary Chukka

I’ve been in the market for an affordable and stylish suede chukka that can easily be dressed up or down. No doubt, I’ve heard of Nordstrom’s 1901 Barrett chukka, but by the time I checked in to buy them, they were out of my size.

It was a couple weeks ago that I was scouring the sales section of my local Nordstrom that the Calgary caught my eye. The website labels them as “Rustic Leather,” but to me it looks like the boot is constructed from suede, with waxed portions on the toe and heel. The sole is a chunky rubber, and appears to be glued as opposed to stitched (but for under $300, that’s to be expected).

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Much prettier in person.

From the website, the Calgary chukkas appear very chunky and work boot-like, but in person they are much sleeker. The details establish that the boot will never be able to be dressed up as some other chukkas, but overall the aesthetic is very rugged gentleman; refined yet still outdoorsy and adventurous, and versatile in their own right, like a man who can wrestle with a grizzly bear one moment, then read a book by the fireplace, sipping tea, the next. While they aren’t as sleek nor dressy as Loakes, they aren’t as casual nor clunky as Red Wings.

The first thing I noticed when I put on the Calgary chukkas is how comfortable they are. The size 8 boots easily fit my 7.5E wide feet (or are they 8E?), while still maintaining a slim silhouette. The insole is padded with a memory foam-like material that cushions and molds to your feet, which makes wearing the boots for extended periods of time easy. In fact, every time I wear these boots I’ll catch myself walking with a little extra spring in my step due to the sponginess of the insoles. In the weeks that I’ve owned them, I have had absolutely zero pain or discomfort during the break-in process.

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Suede texture. I swapped out the laces with my Clarks Bushacres.

I’m unfamiliar with the feeling of cheap versus high-quality suede, but the boot feels soft and smooth. The nap isn’t very plush, it is actually cut very close to the boot, and the waxed portions sort of feel like cheap plastic. That being said, the feeling is excellent for a $70 boot. Much better than the plethora of suede Clarks that I’ve tried in stores. The uppers are flexible without feeling excessively thin or floppy, but the waxed areas offer a bit of construction that helps maintain its profile. The suede is a vibrant rust orange, a colorful alternative to the chocolate suede I was looking for. Dressy? Absolutely not. Full of edge that you can bring to your outfit? Absolutely. It can pair with earth tones like no other, with a warm, striking contrast without being too in-your-face intense.

I have to say one of the only faults of the boot is the sole. I’ve only worn the boots a few times in dry weather, but I can see issues being there with the rubber soles. While suede in the rain is always a bad idea, even on dry ground they don’t feel all too grippy nor durable, but only time will tell how they hold up.

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Waxed/Burnished toe.

Another problem is the laces. They’re simple round laces that feel like cheap elastic, and I suspect they will, with more wear, begin to fray in time. They seem to replicate the style of dressier waxed laces — while being a good deal thicker — which looks inappropriate and contradictory for the style of boot in my opinion. I swapped mine out for the laces from my Clarks Bushacres and I think they look much better.

As a preference, my only other complaint has to do with the waxed toe and heels. Some will love it, some will hate it. I hate, hate, it. The burnished look contrasts jarringly with the rich, colorful suede uppers, and almost single-handedly ruins the look for me. It fits in the contexts of some Workwear or Americana looks, but makes the boots somewhat limiting to dress up.

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Laces: swapped.

All things considered, I am very glad I ended up buying the Calgary chukkas; for the price that I paid, I got an extremely comfortable and pleasant-to-wear boot that I always look forward to putting on.

Full photo album can be found here.