Vestis Legis

Primogenitus. Curator. Vancouver. Halifax. Lex. Menswear. Coffee. @vestislegis
Saturday. The Field. Black Coffee.

Saturday. The Field. Black Coffee.

The Office Wardrobe

If you’re fortunate enough to work in a profession where suits and collared shirts are still expected five days (or more) a week, than you need a proper wardrobe in your office. 

Consider it a trophy case of sorts for the safe keeping of your painstakingly acquired suits, ties, shirts and shoes. For the iGent crowd who go to work in sneakers and jeans, or work exclusively from home (or not at all) this is obviously less of a concern. For the rest of us however, having a selection of work attire kept neatly in the office year-round will prolong the life of the clothing, provide greater flexibility in coming to or leaving the office, and lend a little gravitas to what may be an otherwise unremarkable workspace.

If your daily commute involves any combination of walking, public transit or bicycling, the wear on your shoes and suits from the elements will wreak havoc on them over time. If you live in a particularly rainy or cold climate the wet and salt exacerbates this process. Even the most cautious gentleman finds it next to impossible to walk a short distance to the office through rain (or even a wet parking garage) and not arrive at his desk to find light mud splatter on the back of his suit pants. 

Wet leather soles, mud splattered pants, crowded subway cars - your business dress can be spared these realities of the daily commute if at the end of each workday you return them to their wardrobe. This leaves you free to make the trek home, to the gym, or wherever else life takes you without subjecting your suits to inclement weather, or spilled coffee from the commuter pressed against you on the bus.

Keeping a stocked wardrobe in your office also gives you peace of mind in the event that your workday throws you a curve ball. With clean shirts and a selection of neckwear on hand, a red wine spill at lunch, or a surprise chambers appearance in the afternoon, are challenges that can be met with ease.

Of course there will always be evenings out with clients, or in the corporate suite, where you head home for the night with your suit still on, and tie firmly fastened. Any imbalance this creates between your office wardrobe, and your home closet, can be remedied at the weekend. The equilibrium need not be perfect, the office wardrobe must always remain an object of convenience and not become a tedious balancing act.

I commissioned this wardrobe from a local cabinet maker for many of the same reasons men go to bespoke suits makers - I was unsatisfied with what was readily available in the marketplace. Like a department store suit, wardrobes from most retailers look pretty from afar, but on closer examination are far from good.

Glossy advertisements and cleverly accessorized showrooms are designed to convince you that particle board and plywood are acceptable mediums to construct furniture designed for daily use. Anyone who has ever owned anything from Ikea or Pottery Barn knows this not to be the case. The wardrobe offerings from the high street retailers seem to come with superfluous “features” like plastic partitions and sliding shelves, or glass and metal components that I suppose are meant to be chic. 

Wardrobes should be basic in design, their purpose being to offer a dark, dry and breathable place to store your clothing between uses. They should be enclosed to keep out dust, and spacious enough to allow suits and sport coats to hang naturally. Shelving for shoes, belts and clothes brushes is also useful - but should be minimal so as to avoid the temptation of turning your otherwise useful wardrobe into a repository for all of your #menswear paraphernalia. For example if you start keeping shoe polish and cologne in your wardrobe it is only a matter of time before your suits and shirts start to smell like a wretched combination of them both.

If the hatstand in your office is groaning under the weight of one-too-many suits, and your dry-cleaning hangs awkwardly off the hook on the back of your office door, than do the right thing and invest in a wardrobe.

My wardrobe featured here is made from African Mahogany. It is about 6’ tall, 2’ deep and about 2’6” wide.

#menswear minutiae

If you spend enough time reading Flusser, Crompton, Chensvold and the like, you can’t help but pick up random bits of relatively useless #menswear trivia. 

I say “relatively useless” because while having a working knowledge of Edward VII’s fashion sense doesn’t usually come in handy, and knowing what part of the suit jacket the “gorge” is rarely takes you very far with the ladies - such teachings are not entirely without merit. 

In a general sense a fulsome understanding of the history, function and manufacture of clothing informs one’s sense of style, and provides for better purchasing decisions. But more specifically, in some circles such trumpery can double as a party trick. 

I found myself in just such a situation the other weekend at a wedding in Ottawa. The groom, a military officer, was wearing the regimental tie of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, a ceremonial guard that stands watch over Parliament and Rideau Hall. Above is the current Governor General, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, wearing the very same tie.

Over a scotch at the reception, and without knowing the significance of the tie at the time, I complimented the groom on his regimental colours. He was surprised, and more than a little impressed, that I was able to distinguish his otherwise ordinary red & navy repp tie. I confessed that it was an educated guess and told the groom my secret: traditional English regimental and school ties contain stripes that descend from left to right (some say this is a nod to the left-over-right fastening of men’s jackets). You rarely see them worn in North America.

On American made (designed) repp ties the stripes run the opposite way, descending from right to left. Brooks Brothers explains that when it introduced the repp tie to Americans it wanted to be sure their designs could be distinguished from the English regimentals, lest an American on business in London find himself in hot water for parading around in a tie to which he has no business wearing.

To illustrate the difference, above you can see a Brooks Brothers tie laying beside the Governor General’s regimental tie.

For me, these sort of subtle details - where history and fashion intersect, are the real gems of #menswear.

 

Study the Art. Every day.

Study the Art. Every day.

Vancouver, British Columbia. Weekend. Springtime. Chocolate Lab. Nova Scotia Tartan. Top-Siders.

Vancouver, British Columbia. Weekend. Springtime. Chocolate Lab. Nova Scotia Tartan. Top-Siders.

Bruichladdich. Laphroaig. Tullibardine. A proper liquor cabinet.

Bruichladdich. Laphroaig. Tullibardine. A proper liquor cabinet.

Barristers’ accommodation. New Westminster, British Columbia.

Barristers’ accommodation. New Westminster, British Columbia.

We might be vanilla but our labs are chocolate

image

In the spring of 2007 my college roommate from Boston introduced me to the Tea Partay video. It changed my life.

Forever. 

I realize not everyone has the privilege of being able to point to the defining moment in their life (or in my case a viral advertising campaign) that had such a profound impact on their very identity that they were never the same afterwards. I suppose I’m lucky that my “moment” involved topsiders, cable-knit sweater vests, pastel coloured polos, and alcoholic malt beverages that came in flavours like lemon, peach and of course raspberry. Granted, the P-Unit wasn’t for everyone – but those geezers will snicker at just about anything.

image

For me the Tea Partay was a new way forward - a road map to a lifestyle I hadn’t previously known I wanted. That summer, and again the following spring, I would travel down to New England to gorge on the trappings of my new self. Ironically I was never able to obtain any Smirnoff Raw Tea.

In the years that have passed since college, filling my plate with Tea Partay trimmings has been pretty straightforward. The chinos„ the merino sweaters, and the private clubs have all come my way pretty easily. Getting a chocolate lab was a little more difficult. This only leaves taking up residence in New Hampshire or Vermont as my final obstacle to achieving Tea Partay nirvana.

 image

Once I acquired my chocolate lab I knew I had to set her up, make sure she was looking right and earning the respect of all the other bitches on the block. That meant a Barbour waxed dog coat – something that would match my Beaufort to wear on our long walks on the beach. She’s now pretty much a canine Muffy Aldrich.

I’ll be the first to admit that before I got young Scotia I thought jackets for dogs were a pretty dumb idea. Maybe they still are. I doubt very much her little Barbour keeps her “warm”, but the waxed cotton does keep her back dry, which makes drying her off at the end of a rainy Vancouver outing that much easier.

image

2014 - The Year of the Wool Tie

image

I’m very much over silk ties.

In the latter part of 2013 I found myself acquiring wool ties almost exclusively – and I don’t foresee that trend abating in 2014. I suppose it is natural to be drawn to warmer fabrics, in more subdued colours, in the fall and winter months - but for me I think it is more than that.

image

Wool ties have an inviting and complex texture to them that is lacking in their repp silk brethren. By working with a considerably more muted palette, wool ties convey rich colours with a depth that is at the very least different than silk, and for my money more pleasant. The traditional nature of wool ties, both in their colouring and styling is no doubt owed to their pedigree as a “weekend” tie – put to best use in the countryside, on the hunt, or in the study. Though historically viewed as more causal than silk, and not typically featured in the English gentry’s city wardrobe, when you consider how much brown is being worn in town these days, I’d venture that it is safe to knot-up a wool tie in even the most conservative of workplaces. 

image

The truth is that a lot of silk ties look cheap. Cheap silk ties look too shiny, too glossy, or too chunky to be taken seriously. Today everyone wears a tie that reads “100% silk” or “all silk” or some other descriptor that is really of no assistance in determining the value of the tie. Cheap ties look terrible. Also only the finest ties in the world are actually made of nothing but silk. At the very least the interlining of the “100% silk” tie is made of a material other than silk, and in most cases the tipping and thread will be as well.

image 

Because wool ties remain somewhat of novelty, only worn by those in the #menswear game, or those geezers too old for the game entirely, they remain somewhat of an unadulterated product – and thus less likely to look like they came from Nordstrom Rack, even if in fact that’s where you got them. They also continue to be manufactured, by and large, in conservative patterns and colours, rather than in garish hues with obnoxious designs. This means that unlike some of those Tommy Hilfiger ties in your closet, they won’t look terribly dated after only a couple seasons.

Like the silk grenadine, the wool tie will never dislodge the silk repps from the lofty heights of workplace hegemony, but in 2014 I’m going to try and let them make a run at it.

VESTIS x LEGIS

I appreciate the ambiance of #menswear shoppes as much – or more – than the next guy. From the well-curated window display that draws you in off the street, to the mise en scène created within by the fixtures and the cultural artifacts strewn about on shelves and tables, it all comes together to reassure the customer that they’ve come to the right place.

The storefront provides the “feel” that must match the “look” that the label sells. The Filson flagship store in Seattle for example is stylized as some sort of hunting cabin – complete with fireplace and mounted moose head. Purveyors to the shirt-and-tie crowd tend be a little more refined in their “visual merchandising” opting for quilted leather wingbacks over rocking chairs, and towering bookcases over hunting trophies. Much like the clothing they sell – some merchants do this better than others.

For as long as I can remember law reporters have been a staple prop in just about every #menswear store of the trad or Ivy set. You can see them featured prominently in this image lifted from the J Press website, they’re also featured in the photo at the top of this post. I consider this incredibly interesting.

Though window displays and chino colours change with the season, these trusty bound sets of judicial opinions apparently never go out of style.

I really enjoy printed reporters. Although as a lawyer I rarely actually refer to them (almost everything is available online), and most law firms are now binning decades worth of these costly relics, I suppose there is something romantic about these sequentially numbered and uniform texts, with brightly coloured bands around their spines, that gives them a timeless aesthetic. But surely young men who share my sentiment represent a rather small sect of the #menswear market?

Furthermore I find it hard to believe that the legal crowd remains (if it ever was) the target market of so many brands and shoppes. Brooks Brothers must dress just as many bankers, doctors and consultants as they do lawyers. Yet year after year Brooks Brothers , J Press and even Banana Republic (to name a few) include law reporters in their advertisements and in-store displays.

 

Yes, lawyers and judges are habitual wearers of suits, ties, tweeds and cufflinks. Nevertheless I don’t think the #menswear public holds up the legal profession as a beacon of all that is right and proper with traditional dress. Though every now and then a legal drama does grace the airwaves (most recently USA Network’s Suits)that leads the masses to believe that all attorneys are charismatic and well-dressed individuals who spend much of their time just hanging out and looking crispy - for better or worse this is not actually true.

 

My guess is that legal reporters are a popular muse of merchandisers not because the profession they are affiliated with is particularly rakish, but because of the larger concepts they represent: establishment, tradition, conservative values, and higher learning. The fact that their existence in actual law offices is somewhat anachronistic I suppose only reinforces their symbolism. If you’re in the market for a navy blazer, an oxford cloth button-down, or a decent pair of brogues I’d wager that at least a couple of the aforementioned characteristics appeal to you.

 (In the photo above you can see that instead of repurposing actual reporters destined for the landfill, Banana Republic decided to commission entire sets of fake books for their displays. A merchandising initiative as contrived and empty as the pages in the B.R. Reports.)

Interior decorators and set designers appropriated the legal reporter decades ago and turned these rather boring and utilitarian objects into vogue furnishings. Indeed, the sight of neat rows of reporters lining the shelves of Victorian-era homes, and the offices of the rich and powerful in movies and television has made them cliché – a visual shorthand for an enviable lifestyle enjoyed by the privileged. Deserved or not, the learned texts of other professions have not received such adoration from artists and designers, which is why this American Federal Reporter is in a Vancouver Brooks Brothers window and not an old edition of Gray’s Anatomy.