It's that time of year again. Black Friday is technically supposed to start on Friday, but many retailers have gotten a jump on their promotions. This Friday, I'll be rounding up some of my favorite sales both here and at Put This On. But for some early Black Friday shopping, here are seven stellar deals.
No Man Walks Alone is a sponsor on this site, but also genuinely one of my favorite online stores. Founder Greg Lellouche worked for a time as a banker on Wall Street, so he knows his way around a classic coat-and-tie rig. At the same time, he has an exceptional eye for casualwear. Take the suede Valstar jacket below, for example, which comes in both black and tan. It has a Western styled yoke, snap button pockets, and a generously shaped collar that looks great when popped from the back. You can wear it with denim, chinos, or even wool trousers. The subtle Western details give it a bit more flavor than your average suede bomber, and it looks especially good with sneakers or boots. I recommend taking your regular jacket size.
In 1994, advertising executive Donald Rifkin came up with a new installment for Coca-Cola's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign, designed to promote the company's sparkling lemon-lime beverage Sprite. In the commercial, a young white teen with an unfortunate center-part haircut wrestles with one of life's eternal questions: "what is cool?" As he stands at a city intersection, our narrator considers the various identities he can adopt to boost his social standing — hip hop head, defiant skater, or entitled prep ("now that is not cool," he quickly surmises of the third). By the end of the 30-second advert, he still has not chosen an identity, but Coca Cola assures us that he can at least give his mind a rest by selecting the one reliably cool drink, Sprite.
When this commercial aired, countless corporations were already clamoring to co-opt street culture as a way to gain street credibility and reach new markets. In the decade prior, companies such as Philips, Atari, McDonald's, Hershey's, and Mountain Dew aired hip hop themed advertisements, which featured breakdancers popping and locking to sell everything from egg sandwiches to chiropractic services. Following the success of Jane Fonda's at-home workout videos, many companies also tried selling breakdancing videos to teach people how they can top rock, windmill, flare, float, and freeze. By the mid-90s, breakdancing was so thoroughly co-opted by the Suits, it was considered uncool in the streets, and a new dance movement emerged called freestyling.
It was also around this time when streetwear became legitimized as a fashion market. To be sure, street and youth culture have long existed. Since the end of the Second World War, young people in Britain and the United States have expressed themselves as beats, beatniks, bobby soxers, modernists, mods, hippies, bohemians, surfers, skaters, punks, and rockers. During mid-1940s Britain, ex-Guards officers, many of them gay, ordered fanciful Edwardian suits from their Savile Row tailors as a reaction to demob dreariness. These suits were defined by their long, flared skirt, turnback cuffs, and tight, drainpipe trousers. At the time, this New Edwardian style was fashionable in posh gay circles, having been championed by society photographer Cecil Beaton and the dandy couturier Bunny Roger. Savile Row tailors were all too happy to promote the look, as doing so helped fill their ledgers with orders.
In the last ten years, the internet has exploded with innumerable sources for high-end shoes. What used to be a small market of Goodyear welted footwear has become an electronic bazaar with virtual stalls from around the world. In the past, if you wanted a pair of good shoes, you had your pick of two American brands, a handful of Northampton makers, and some Continental labels that were hard to source. Today, dozens of specialized dealers offer MTO options, adjusted lasts, and handwelted shoes made in the Austro-Hungarian tradition.
When shopping for shoes in this environment, it can be easy to get sucked into the endless number of options, especially when you’re scrolling through Instagram accounts and dedicated shoe blogs for inspiration. The photos that catch our eye tend to be of shoes that are sleek, interesting, and creatively designed. So people pause on photos of shapely oxfords in gleaming museum calf leathers, two-toned button boots, and chukkas in jewel tones such as sapphire blue and ruby red. And since footwear blogs tend to be so singularly focused on shoes — the leather types, construction techniques, and historical origins of some style — it’s also easy to find yourself thinking about shoes as standalone objects, disconnected from a wardrobe and be to be collected like Pokémon. I found myself doing this when I first got into fountain pens. The more I learned about filling systems and specialized nibs, the more I wanted certain pens, even though my time would have been better spent practicing my handwriting with the pens I already own.
Such internet-driven shoe shopping doesn’t always lead to good results in a wardrobe. In classic men’s dress, the cynosure of an outfit is typically the triangular area formed by a jacket, shirt, and tie. When done well, this area should lead a viewer’s eye upwards toward the space that deserves the most attention, your face. This is why it can be hard to wear patterned trousers or shoes in unusual colors: they draw the eye downwards. But when shopping online, we tend to be drawn to shoes that catch our eye, which is the opposite of what you want in an outfit. This doesn’t mean you have to get the most boring shoes possible (“They are not cheap; they are also an investment,” Hardy Amies wrote in The Englishman’s Suit. “So design is of the plainest”). Dreadfully boring shoes can sometimes signal a kind of conservatism that suggests you’re too self-conscious and afraid to have a point of view. Instead, get something that complements the rest of your wardrobe and builds towards a style you want to project. Here are three friendly suggestions on how to shop for better shoes.
A few months after the world shut down this past spring, Cathy Horyn of The Cut interviewed Raf Simons about what he thought of fashion's possible future. Simons, who's known in fashion circles for introducing a generation of men to the skinny black suit, was sitting in his apartment in Antwerp at the time while wearing elasticated easy pants and a hoodie. He ruminated on what fashion might look like after this pandemic. "'I think there must be a bunch of people out there, when they start thinking about fashion, who don't want to be reminded of the shitty time they had at home in the last five months. But —' He hesitated. 'It's just so personal. I have no clue. [...] honestly, I haven't worn a piece of fashion in months.'"
That's mostly the feeling I get when I think about fashion nowadays. But recently, I've been enjoying Mark Cho's new YouTube series, titled "Dress to Ingest." In a series of relaxing videos that run between five and ten minutes, Mark sits down with various Hong Kong restaurateurs to talk about their signature dishes. The videos are meant to give people some context on where they can wear tailored clothing, here being at restaurants. "They say you don't appreciate it until it's gone," Mark tells me. "Tailoring is often misunderstood only as a 'formal' option, but there's a difference between 'formal' and 'dressed up.' 'Formal' is serious and somber. 'Dressed up' is simply being invested in your appearance for your benefit and others around you. There has always been something precious about breaking bread with friends and family. Given how seldom we see each other now, why not give these rare occasions the celebration they deserve?"
I don't wear tailored clothing as much as I used to, given that I mostly spend my days at home. But I've tried to make an effort to wear nicer clothes when I can -- a sport coat for short walks around the neighborhood, better flannel shirts even when I'm at home, a nicer pair of pants that I used to reserve for going to the city. "Outside" clothes help break up what's become a very monotonous life at home. Plus, on the few occasions when I can safely meet with friends, I've taken the opportunities to "dress up" more than I used to. The future of fashion is still uncertain, and yet, clothes continue to be one of our small comforts. In that spirit, here are eleven things I'm excited to wear this season.
Fashion is often criticized for its creative destruction. Trends are constantly coming and going; new brands are always emerging. What some see as a pointless field, I see as a subject where there's always something new, something interesting, and something different to talk about. For the past few years, I've been doing annual roundups about new brands I'm watching. To be sure, not all of them are actually new -- some have been around for a while. But they're new to me and, hopefully, you. This year, I have so many brands on my list that I decided to break this post into two parts. The first part was published last week. This is part two.
If you've seen the 1948 Italian neorealist drama Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, sometimes mistranslated as The Bicycle Thief), you'll know that post-war Italy was not always the carefree European paradise we imagine today. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the country's economy was in tatters. Allied forces had bombed the country for years until the German Army surrendered in May of 1945, leaving Italy's manufacturing and transportation infrastructures in the rubble. Yet, it was only about a decade later when the Italian economy rebounded — so much so that economists call the period from 1958 until 1963 the "Italian Economic Miracle" (or what Italians call "Miracolo"). This period transformed Italy from a poor, mostly rural economy into a global industrial power. It also propelled Italian fashion onto the world stage.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons once described fashion as being an “ever-moving feast.” I find that the quick-paced nature of fashion -- where things are constantly being created and destroyed -- makes the field endlessly interesting. There’s always something new, something different, something to talk about. For the past few years, I've been doing annual roundups on new brands I find to be interesting. To be sure, not all of them are new -- many have been around for years -- but they're new to me. This year, there are so many brands on the list, I'm splitting the post into two parts. Here's part one, with part two coming later this week.
With a camera in her hand and a translator by her side, Dechen Yeshi arrived at the Amdo region of the Tibetan plateau in 2004. She came partly to explore her family's history on her father's side, a Tibetan academic who once served as a Minister to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She also came at the behest of her mother, Kim Yeshi, a French-American anthropologist who co-founded the Norbulingka Institute, a Tibetan cultural center based near Dharmsala, India. Kim has always been fascinated by textiles, and long believed that yak wool could be a source of income for Tibetan families. So she sent her daughter Deschen to investigate.
As most people only wear tailoring to the office, suit sales will likely be in a slump for a while. But for people who dress for pleasure, I imagine the suit and its accoutrements will remain relevant for some time. The fact is, it feels good to dress up. “Outside” clothes help divide the day into distinct periods, which is especially nice now that work-from-home culture threatens to make every activity feel the same. A few weeks ago, I got coffee with my friend Peter Zottolo outside of a cafe, where he told me that he and his wife still try to find occasions to dress up now and again. One day we’ll return to bars, restaurants, and perhaps even offices. And when we do, “nice” clothes will return.
The good news is that the tailored clothing market has never been better. Ten years ago, if you wanted a semi-affordable suit, your options were mostly limited to J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and various haberdashers who worked with Southwick. You could shop second-hand, of course, but what you saved in money, you spent on time. Today, there are many more options at affordable prices, particularly for people who favor classic Italian style. If you’re looking to get a suit any time in the future, here are three places that I think are worth being on your shortlist.
Three years ago, I was in an elevator in a San Francisco hotel with Agyesh Madan, co-founder of Stoffa, after he finished a trunk show. We were on our way to get lunch at a cafe across the street. Madan, who's always immaculately dressed, was wearing a grey suede double rider with a pair of cream-colored trousers, a dark blue Camoshita pullover, and some beat-up Belgian loafers. As we exited the hotel lobby, Madan told me about his design process. "We spent years developing this jacket," he said of the double rider he was wearing. "For everything we create, we go through cycles of prototyping and testing, as I want to be confident of the things we offer to our customers."
Over the years, I've admired Stoffa's approach to slow fashion, which starts with its product development process and extends through to their repair service. A couple of weeks ago, I talked with Madan and his business partners over the phone about their latest capsule collection. We also discussed whether sustainability is possible in an industry that relies on selling people new clothes every season.
In the last few months, as millions of Americans have transported their work from cubicles to bedrooms, the US has engaged in something of a massive, unplanned social experiment. It’s estimated that up to half the US labor force now works from home. The other half is split between those not working and those still working at a jobsite (the second of which is mainly composed of essential service workers). Almost overnight, the US has transformed into a work-from-home economy coordinated through online applications such as Slack, Zoom, and Google Docs.
Now it seems that many companies may continue with this arrangement even in a post-COVID world as a way to save money. This summer, Facebook and Twitter captured headlines when they announced plans to let some employees operate from home indefinitely. Financial giants Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and Nationwide say they intend to do the same. At the moment, roughly 90% of Morgan Stanley’s 80,000 employees work from home, a process that CEO James Gorman says has been remarkably smooth. “We’ve proven we can operate with no footprint,” Gorman told Bloomberg Television. “Can I see a future where part of every week, certainly part of every month, a lot of our employees will be at home? Absolutely.” By the time the coronavirus crisis is over, we may emerge from our homes only to be told to go back inside again.
The opportunity to work from home has some obvious benefits: more time with family and pets, not having a stern boss peer over your shoulder, and being able to intersperse work periods with leisure activities (work at your own pace, so goes the theory). But when you check emails where you sleep and type where you eat, it’s hard to beat back the workday’s colonizing tendencies. Professors and freelancers know this all too well, as their constant-work culture deprives them of true leisure. When you never officially clock in or out, it’s easy to feel like you should always be using your time more productively, so you start to feel guilty for enjoying anything outside of labor. “I should be working,” says the nagging little voice in your mind.
The hottest trend last year wasn't the oversized puffer jackets, patchwork coats, or resurgence of lowbrow patterns such as tie-dye and leopard prints. Instead, the dominating trend of 2019 was the topic of sustainability. During the spring/summer seasons, major brands such as Ralph Lauren and Adidas capitalized on a growing consumer interest for eco-friendly products by releasing green polos and running shoes wholly made from ocean waste and recycled plastics. By autumn, Kering — the parent company to Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Brioni, among other big luxury labels — announced that it would commit to being carbon neutral across all of its operations. At the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, also spearheaded an effort to get other major labels to do the same. Known as the Fashion Pact, the global coalition includes over 60 signatories, ranging from H&M to Hermes. They say they'll make significant changes in their business to help meet science-based targets in three areas: achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, restoring biodiversity, and preserving oceans by reducing their use of single-use plastics. No punitive measures, however, will be imposed should they fail to meet their goals.
Of course, much of this comes as a result of the scrutiny the fashion industry has faced over its impact on the global climate crisis. There have been a lot of disturbing facts hastily thrown around, many of them not carefully checked. It's often said that nearly three-fifths of the fashion industry's annual production — estimated to be upwards of 150 billion garments — ends up in incinerators or landfills within years of being made. That results in about 10% of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions, more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined. As Vox noted, actual evidence for this is scant, although the fashion industry is indeed a mess. If anything, we know there's too much clothing in the world by merely looking at our closets. Similar concerns have come up before, even if not directly about global warming. During the 19th century, as industrialization made things more affordable, many Europeans felt wonder and anxiety over their new material abundance. People worried about how to use goods well, what abundance might be for, and how not to be spoiled by possessions. Human virtues such as restraint and simplicity came to the fore, and some questioned whether the sheer quantity of objects around them would dull their senses.
When it comes to sustainability in fashion, discussions follow a very predictable course. The focus is often on tangible dimensions, such as build quality, materials, technology, transport, and recycling. In an interview on the podcast show Time Sensitive, Gabriela Hearst says her experience growing up on a ranch gave her a deeper appreciation for the calmness that comes with knowing that things around you don't need to change, including the clothes on your back. "I really thought about why I am so attracted to things of quality," she said. "It is because things have to be made well to last and to endure, so I grew up with things that were made to last and endure, not necessarily from an ostentatious point of view but from a quality, utilitarian aspect." The only sensible and sustainable antidote to throwaway culture, then, is to purchase timeless, long-lasting clothing that you can wear for life.