In praise of male elegance

English: Lithograph of Brooks Clothing Store, ...
English: Lithograph of Brooks Clothing Store, Catherine Street, New York City, in 1845 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loved this recent story about how (some!) American men are dressing better, in The New York Times:

Men are notoriously averse to shopping…

So why do men appear to be shopping for themselves in record numbers?

Men’s wear sales are surging at double-digit rates. Suits, sports coats and outerwear, nearly all bought by men themselves, are leading the gains, according to Steve Pruitt, founder of the fashion and retail consulting firm Blacks Retail. Blacks projects that men’s suit sales will be up 10 percent this fall and holiday season, and sports jacket sales will be up 11 percent, while women’s ready-to-wear sales remain flat.

“Men are the new women,” Bret Pittman, director of J. Crew’s Ludlow Shop in TriBeCa in Manhattan, told me when I stopped in recently for a tour of the new store, the prototype for a line that will feature men’s suits and tailored clothing.

As I write this, two gift-wrapped boxes await Jose in my closet, from Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers, with more sartorial goodies en-route for Christmas. He went to the dry cleaner’s tailor today to get three pairs of corduroy trousers altered — after I insisted. (The tailor agreed.)

A well-dressed man is a rare and lovely sight. If this is becoming a trend, I’m all for it.

Madison in the mid-40s, in Manhattan, is where you’ll find Brooks Brothers on the south end of the block and Paul Stuart — a 74-year-old shop named for the founder’s son — at the north end…keep heading north and you’ll find 111-year-old J. Press, all shops with classic, elegant, well-made clothing.

Brooks has everything from a smart black umbrella with a real bamboo handle, (a reasonable $60), to suits, shoes, pajamas, cologne, hats and leather briefcases. Their small shoe department has wonderful things, from dressy to casual. Paul Stuart, whose styles and colors are far more European, is not for the faint-of-heart or thin-of-wallet — a pair of socks is $48 and their sweaters and jackets roam to the four figures. Their cheapest shoe, a stunning black suede Italian loafer, is $562.

But some things are affordable, and fun — silk pocket squares and their knotted fabric cuff-links for $12. I love the quiet, old-school atmosphere and the jewel tones, in virtually every item, that are their trademark.

Elegance is an acquired taste.

My father, at 83 exploring Hong Kong as I write this, still dresses with great style, as he always has, which gave me a decided interest in dating — certainly marrying — a man who appreciates it as well. I still remember exactly what Jose wore on our first date 13 years ago, very much enjoying that he had bothered to dress up for the occasion; when I see guys in their 30s or beyond still schlubbing around in sneakers and caps and hoodies, like a bunch of 12-year-olds with no dough and less imagination, I sigh.

Male elegance has a few basic, classic components:


American men seem to have no idea that tailors even exist, as so many wear trousers, (even on their wedding day!), that puddle hopelessly atop their shoes. Too many clothes, certainly the cheaper ones, are laser-cut in China, with little or no attention to proper fit. Read GQ or Details or The Sartorialist for examples of how do it right.


Learn the difference between cotton, polyester, nylon, wool, cashmere and rayon, calf leather, cordovan, suede. Read labels and feel the materials under your hand. Once you can tell the difference between cashmere and merino, (and your budget has no room for new cashmere), hit consignment and vintage shops for affordable options.


Many men have absolutely no idea what colors look well on them, or awful. The color of your hair, (or lack of same), eyes and skin tone should all affect your choices  — including hats, scarves and eyewear. If you’re very pale, a white shirt and light gray suit are probably not the most attractive choices. Jose, being Hispanic, has a skin tone that allows him to wear some fantastically bold color choices and look terrific in them. A decent salesman or woman in a better quality men’s store can help. Men whose wives or partners have a great eye could do worse than let us help you edit your choices.


Huge. The nicest pair of leather shoes will look like hell if you let the heels wear down, (hence the expression, well-heeled), don’t polish them frequently and forget to use heavy, solid wooden shoe trees after each wearing. Regular haircuts — including nose, ear and eyebrow trim for the over-40s — make a serious difference. Keep nails short and clean, and hands moisturized. A subtle cologne is a wonderful lagniappe.


Financial Times columnist Peter Aspden recently described the challenge of finding weekend shoes:

By far the trickiest part of weekend dressing is footwear. Look: there is no smart casual in footwear. Smart is what you wear to work. Casual is trainers: comfortable, fashionable. A chairman of the Royal Opera House once declared that he never wanted to sit next to anyone wearing trainers. He was ridiculed. It was a seminal cultural-podiatric moment. We are the generation that invented trainers, and now we had earned the right to wear them, whenever, wherever.

Joe Ottaway, personal shopping consultant at Selfridges, grimaces. “I’m not a great trainer [note: Britspeak for sneakers, running shoes] fan,” he says. He admits that weekend footwear can be a thorny problem. “What is important is to find something that is age-appropriate.” It seems, not for the first time, that I have missed a key trend in men’s fashion. “The age of the well-dressed, well-groomed man is coming back.” And it means, beyond a certain age, no trainers. What age might that be? “25,” says Ottaway.


Have fun! These include gorgeous silk pocket squares, (this one is $8 in jewel tones), lovely knee-high colored socks, cuff-links, a sterling belt buckle, a slim (possibly vintage) watch, great eyewear, a well-made hat, a snazzy duffel or backpack or briefcase. Frenchmen almost always add a fab scarf or muffler to their outfits, and there are many options out there; I like this striped one from Barney’s, by Paul Smith.

Take time, if being stylish appeals to you, to browse a few high-end shops, on-line or in person, to see what’s available. The king of this is British designer Paul Smith; a visit to his Fifth Avenue shop is always fun and inspiring.

Ladies, does a well-dressed man catch your eye?

Do you — gentlemen — pay attention to such matters?

The Sartorial Summer Challenge — Seersucker

Image of green/white striped seersucker fabric...
Image via Wikipedia

Would you wear a seersucker suit?

The sweetie, who is of Mexican ancestry, has one in blue and cream, bought at Rubensteins, one of New Orleans’ oldest department stores, founded in 1924. He wears it with classic white suede bucks, cream socks, a white shirt and light-colored tie. It looks great. I love the confidence it takes to wear this classic, southern, American style.

He last wore it on June 21 to honor a venerable New York Times tradition (where he works) — seersucker day. He got some funny looks on the commuter train, but a few nods and thumbs-up.

Here’s some advice how…

Wearing Your Man's Clothes (Or Fragrance Or Ski Boots)

Image by justgrimes via Flickr

Annie Hall did it in 1977 — wearing trousers and a white shirt and a man’s hat. Women borrowing their guys’ clothing is a perennial favorite.

Recent issues of Vogue and Elle suggest borrowing everything from his leather messenger bag to his gray flannel vest to a cobalt blue V-neck sweater.

Writes Joe Zee:

When it comes to the age-old sport of clothes-nabbing, my role has always been easy: the innocent bystander who listens and
spectates. The girls get together, compliment one another, “borrow” from one another, and then call me to complain that they don’t think they’ll ever see their things again. Now, for the first time it looked as though I was about to be the victim of closet robbery, and I didn’t like it one bit. I stopped my friend as she approached the door, my favorites in hand.

“No, not cool,” I said. “I wear those things all the time. Plus, they won’t fit you. And why do you want my clothes, anyway?”

“I’m doing the oversize men’s look that Rihanna’s been pulling,” she said.

“Can’t you get your own white shirts and blazers?”

“Not the same. There’s something about real men’s clothes from a guy’s closet that’s so much better.” And with that declaration, she was gone, clothing and all.

The dressing tables had been officially turned.

I liked Vogue’s picks better, including pajamas, a bucket hat, a watch and fragrance. My favorite watch is a 1920s silver man’s watch I bought in a London flea market and I’ve long loved 108-year-old Blenheim Bouquet, officially a man’s scent from the British firm Penhaligon‘s.

I’ve almost always dated shorter, smaller men, most of them stylish. One was small enough I could even borrow his ski boots.

I deeply coveted half of my sweetie’s wardrobe the first time I saw his stuff — a crisp white collar-less shirt, a charcoal sweater and the khaki-colored Nautica cotton jacket he almost never gets to wear because I love it so much. I’ve borrowed everything from his black polypro ski underwear to his sweatshirts.

The night we met he took off the red silk Tibetan prayer shawl he was wearing as a muffler and gently wrapped me up in it. It smelled of 1881, his cologne, and was warm from his skin.

Worked for me.

What clothing of your man’s do you wear?

Gentlemen, is any of it off limits to your women?

A Chick Magnet? Toss On A Kilt, Gentlemen

Scottish baggage handler John Smeaton poses fo...
Go for it, lads! Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Pleats? Cuffs? Bow tie? Red Wings? Forget it.

Go for a kilt, advises today’s FT.

Each month staff from Edinburgh’s Geoffrey (Tailor) Kiltmakers travel to London to meet a growing demand. In addition they regularly cross the Atlantic to supply US fans. “A kilt is a bit of a girl magnet,” says Hugh Statham, Geoffrey’s US manager. “If I went into a pub, I’d get more attention for wearing a kilt than for wearing jeans. It’s a good conversation starter.

“In the 1960s and 70s kilts were barely seen at all but since then they’ve come back and they’re back to stay. One of our biggest markets is the 18-21 age range. Families chip in and buy kilts as gifts. And unless your weight changes dramatically you’ve got it for the next 30 or 40 years.”

I’ve seen men in kilts and, if you’re trim and have nice legs, it’s a great look. Add a sporran — or, as my American beau calls it “that little purse thing” — and you’re good to go. It’s a portable pocket, just the spot for a flask.

Not sure what tartan to choose? Here’s a tartan-finder; there are tartans for Irish descendants, the Wagga Wagga, Ladybird…

My school uniform for five years was a Hunting Stewart tartan kilt with matching tie. It’s a gorgeous tartan, deep green with red, yellow, blue and black. I loved wearing it, even outdoors in frigid Toronto winters. Warm, comfortable, stylish. What’s not to like?