Vestis Legis

Primogenitus. Curator. Vancouver. Halifax. Lex. Menswear. Coffee. @vestislegis

The Holiday Tartan Gift Guide

‘Tis the season for holiday Gift Guides, and it always strikes me as odd that DIY pocket squares are omitted from even the most reputable #menswear lists. I’d say a homemade pocket square, hand-cut from a meaningfully select textile is a pretty sweet - Christmas or otherwise - gift idea.

They’re inexpensive to make (the only material cost is the fabric), and they can be gifted individually or bundled together for a more substantial present. Also, in case the Blogosphere has managed to convince you otherwise, pocket squares are in fact as easy to make as they look. Assuming you put even a little thought into selecting the fabric, and minimal effort into finishing the edges, they’re an attractive and creative keepsake. In a nutshell they’re a unique gift for those hard-to-shop-for gentlemen on your list.

Though sourcing, cutting and finishing silk or another fine/expensive material is probably best left to the professionals, linen or wool is readily available at any fabric store, and is easy to work with. 

The three wool squares pictured above are the traditional tartans of the three largest Atlantic Provinces: Nova Scotia (blue), New Brunswick (green) and Newfoundland (red). Good luck finding a sexier tartan than the Nova Scotian. I picked up a metre of each at a fabric store in Ottawa, and if memory serves me correct each metre of cloth made about a dozen 13” x 13” squares. A good measuring tape, a sharp pair of scissors, and a steady hand is all you need to cut your cloth into squares. Finishing the edges is a little trickier.

I suppose I could have finished them by hand, but if that were the case I’d probably still be working on them. Fortunately an experienced seamstress with a sewing machine offered to finish the edges for me. I realize that most people probably aren’t so lucky. However I would expect that for a modest sum a professional seamstress or a tailor could finish your edges for you. I would think a shopping centre dry cleaner that offers “5 minute alterations” could probably knock off a couple dozen pocket squares quickly, and on the cheap.

I thought a bundle of traditional tartan pocket squares were a fitting Christmas gift because they compliment winter tweeds well. Admittedly, they’re a little “heavy” for worsted wool. For my next batch I’ll probably go for something a little lighter, maybe with some interesting deadstock fabric.

If you’re stuck for gift ideas, this is the kind of project you could start this coming weekend and still have them folded and neatly tucked into stockings by the 24th. Good luck.

Patinated

A month or so ago Valetmag.com did a piece titled The Essential Leather Glossary.

I used to really enjoy Valet, but unfortunately over the past year it has become so sponsor driven that it’s almost devoid of any product-neutral content. Valet is still worth keeping on (or adding to) your favourites menu though, it’s useful for trend spotting, and Valet does a decent job curating publications like GQ, Esquire and other more mainstream medias that #menswear snobs might not otherwise bother with.

So to Valet’s credit I thought the leather glossary was a good idea. A lot of terms get thrown around in the blogosphere, and not everyone is familiar with the nomenclature. But #menswear enthusiast or not, everyone appreciates leather goods. Unfortunately not all “leather” is created equal, and the waters are further muddied by a myriad of terms, grades and styles that can and do mislead unsuspecting consumers.

So while Valet’s Essential Leather Glossary was a good start I thought I’d lean on Wikipedia and Google to flush the list out a little. 

Sourcing your next leather belt, boots or sofa is really not that much different than any other product: a deal too good to be true, likely is. Products made out of full grain leather have fixed material costs that can’t be avoided. If you’re spending less than $200 on a pair or shoes, or say $50 bucks on a belt, you aren’t getting “real” leather. It’s like they teach us in 1L - caveat emptor.

[Above is a Tommy Hilifiger belt I got years ago. It’s aged nicely.]

Think those shoes or wallet you just bought that are stamped “genuine leather” are made entirely of leather? Wrong. Although I have no idea who investigates or enforces clothing labeling practices, it’s worth knowing that manufacturers of leather articles are “allowed” to construct a product that is traded as “genuine leather”  even though it contains some non-leather components, provided the incorporation on non-leather materials does not exceed specific levels.

For example the European Commission Directive 94/11 on “footwear labeling” states that the upper, lining, or sole of a shoe can be labelled “genuine leather” so long as 80% of the surface area is in fact made of leather. If the standard in Europe is 80%, dare I speculate what the standard is in China?

Ever have a belt or watch strap split open on you, revealing a gooey or foamy interior? Yet that same article was stamped “leather”, “genuine leather” or “real leather”? I’ve included a couple photos in this post of a watch strap and belt I own, both stampled “genuine leather” and in both cases you can see where they will, or have, split apart.

So long as the outer layer, and lining of the belt/strap are made of leather, a manufacturer can fill the space between these two strips with other materials provided “no other materials compromise more than 50% of the surface area”, and still call their product “genuine leather”. Confusing eh? I haven’t investigated further to determine how surface area is calculated, and it’s really beside the point: when purchasing leather products trust your instincts, and research the brands, because you sure as hell can’t trust labels.

The Good

Bridle Leather (very good) -Vegetable tanned cowhide used for making equestrian equipment. Bridle leather refers to the way that a piece of leather (full grain cow hide) is finished at the tannery. Bridle leather has both the flesh and grain side of the leather stuffed with greases and finished with wax. Because this is a labour intensive and expensive process only the best grades of leather are selected for this treatment. Bridle leather is also made in comparatively fewer tanneries.

Full Grain Leather - Leather that has not been corrected in any way with sanding or buffing, beyond the original hair removal. This allows the natural markings, imperfections and character of the leather to show through. The grain remains allowing the fiber strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a patina over time (see my Tommy Hilfiger belt above for example). High quality leather furniture and footwear are often made from full-grain leather.  Because full grain leathers must be cleaner hides to start with, full grain leather is always more expensive than its corrected or split cousins. Belts, watch straps, and most shoes should ideally be made of full grain leather.

Top-grain Leather - Is the most common type of leather used in high-end leather products, and is the second-highest quality (second to full grain that is). It has had the “split” layer separated away, making it thinner and more pliable than full-grain. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added which results in a colder, plastic feel with less breathability, and it will not develop a natural patina. So long as the finish remains unbroken, top grain leather has greater stain resistance than full grain leather. 

Nubuck - A leather where the surface has been buffed and brushed to create a soft, velvety effect. While suede is created from the flesh (inner) side of a hide, nubuck is created using the grain (outer) side, making it stronger.

Oxblood - A dark, reddish-brown colour used to dye leather, and is used often for cordovan.

Patina - The rich, worn-in hue or lustre that develops in a quality piece of leather over time with age and wear.

Shearling - Sheepskin or lambskins that have been tanned with the wool intact (think nice leather slippers).

Vegetable Tanning - A method of hide tanning which utilizes materials from organic materials such as bark, instead of the traditional chemicals. Vegetable tanned leather is stiffer than traditionally-tanned leather, and gets darker from your body’s natural oils the more you use it. Bridle leather will typically be vegetable tanned. 

Nappa - Soft, full grain leather made from unsplit sheep or lambskin. It is usually tanned with alum and chromium salts and dyed throughout the whole piece.

Glove Leather - Lambskin or other very soft, high quality leathers typically used for gloves. High-end English shoes will typically be lined with glove leather. 

Calfskin - A high quality, fine grained leather made from the skins of young cattle.

Cordovan - Also known as “shell cordovan,” this leather is made from the firm shell portion of a horse (read: the butt). Cordovan has a characteristic finish, and is very durable.

Grain - A term used to describe the natural characteristics of an unprocessed hide, such as its texture, wrinkles and markings.

Suede - A finish (not technically a type of leather) where the top surface of the hide has been removed by abrasion and then brushed to create a soft, fuzzy feel. Also known as buffed leather, similar to nubuck.

The Bad

Corrected-grain leather - Any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. Taking hides that do not meet the high standards for full grain use, the imperfections are sanded off and an artificial grain is impressed into the surface, and then dressed up with stains or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is dyed with a strong pigment to further obscure any imperfections, and hide the corrections. The artificial grain embossed on the leather will often be “pebbled” or take on the appearance of an exotic skin like alligator.

Split leather - Leather created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the rawhide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation, the top-grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split and a flesh split. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (bycast leather). Splits are also used to create suede. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct

Patent Leather - Leather where one surface has been covered with a flexible, waterproof film which has a lustrous mirror-like surface. This coating was formerly built up by the application of various varnishes and lacquers using linseed oil. The original process was developed in New Jersey, by inventor Seth Boyden in 1818. Today, patent leather
 usually has a plastic coating. Not crispy.

The Ugly

Reconstituted leather - Composed of up to 90% leather fibres (often scrap from leather tanneries or leather workshops) bonded together with some form of plastic binder to create a look and feel similar to that of leather at a fraction of the cost. The resulting material is not as durable as real leather and is recommended for use only if the product will be used infrequently. This is shit.

Bonded Leather - Most often found in shitty upholstery. Bonded leather is generally a vinyl or polyurethane surface that contains about 17% leather fiber in its backing material. This plastic material is then stamped to give it a leather-like texture.

Bycast Leather - A split leather with a layer of polyurethane applied to the surface and then embossed. Bycast was originally made for the shoe industry and recently was adopted by the furniture industry. The original formula created by Bayer was strong but expensive. The result is a plastic material that is slightly stiffer but cheaper than top-grain leather but has a much more consistent texture. Because its surface is completely covered in plastic, is easier to clean and maintain. Your shitty co-worker’s shoes are probably made of bycast leather.

A Sunday Ritual

For my money there’s no better way to round out a Sunday evening than with a stiff drink, a tin of polish, and couple pairs of broken-in Goodyear welted shoes. In my case Allen Edmonds.

There’s something extremely satisfying about brushing off the nicks and soot from the previous week’s travels, and then buffing them back up to their previous lustre. Well patinated shoes aren’t something you can buy off the shelf; it’s a character in the leather that’s slowly acquired over months and years of wear, and layers of creams, waxes, and polishes.

With the exception of shoes reserved for the most formal of occasions, all leather shoes look better after they’ve seen a few miles.

Buy good shoes. Take good care of them. They’ll last forever. They’ll look awesome.

Yes, that’s the siren song of the #menswear blogosphere, but it’s also true. Wear nice shoes, and no one notice’s your shitty suit. Wear shitty shoes, and no one notices that crispy Kiton you picked up in Naples during Yacht Week.

I’m not saying we all need to have Lobbs or Gazianos on our feet, just that at the very least self-respecting men should strive to wear welted calfskins, made by craftsmen.

Nothing says “I don’t get it” like wearing rubber-soled, bonded leather, bluchers. Extra points if they’re square-toed.

I don’t care if you are on a student’s budget. Take your clothing budget. Cut it in half. Now take one of those halves, and buy some decent shoes. 

Allen Edmonds, Meermin, and Loake to name a few are well made, use full-grain leathers, and can be had on a budget. Buying new still too much? Go on eBay - buy shoes off dead guys. I do. And stick to oxfords for the workplace, broguing optional.

Oxford v. Blucher? Don’t know the difference? Get yourself sorted. Start with Wikipedia.

There is no excuse to be the guy in the elevator with the shitty department store slip-ons. Yah, the sexy assistant who got off two floors ago noticed - but more importantly the dude who sits in the corner office you covet noticed. And judged accordingly.

A further thought on maintenance: leather soles need to be treated with respect.

Wear them every other day at the most, and keep cedar shoe trees in them between wears. Shoe trees are great for odour control, maintaining shape, and wicking up moisture. Wet leather soles unfortunately break down rather quickly. If your shoes ever get really wet, which will happen, let them dry on their sides, naturally - don’t rush them with heat. This is fundamental.

James Purdey & Sons. Founded in London in 1814. Granted its first Royal Warrant of Appointment in 1868 by HRH The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Producer of the world’s finest sporting shotguns and rifles. 

My grandfather passed away yesterday. He was 89. Bob was a veteran of the Second World War, and a graduate of Dalhousie Law School, class of ‘51. In ‘71 he was appointed Queens Counsel. From ‘85-‘86 he served as president of the Nova Scotia Barristers Society. During that time he penned a series of light-hearted, but poignant articles on the legal profession. I apologize for the poor photo quality - but I think it’s worth squinting for. Articles like these let us reflect on the traditions and shared experiences that are unique to our profession. 

My grandfather passed away yesterday. He was 89. Bob was a veteran of the Second World War, and a graduate of Dalhousie Law School, class of ‘51. In ‘71 he was appointed Queens Counsel. From ‘85-‘86 he served as president of the Nova Scotia Barristers Society. During that time he penned a series of light-hearted, but poignant articles on the legal profession. I apologize for the poor photo quality - but I think it’s worth squinting for. Articles like these let us reflect on the traditions and shared experiences that are unique to our profession. 

No. 10 Savile Row

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This fall I discovered a brilliant BBC Four series titled “Savile Row” which I’ve been shamelessly gorging myself on via Youtube. “Savile Row” is something of hybrid between a documentary and reality television. The series follows a handful of tailors and cutters from the Row as they narrate their dying trade’s struggle with high street competition and a dwindling customer base. You can check it out here.

Although the series is a few years old, if you’re not familiar with Savile Row, or English bespoke suit making in general, it’s definitely required watching.  With the explosion of internet-based “tailors” offering “custom made” suits, and “bespoke” entering the #menswear vernacular as a throw-away label to be freely exploited, the consequence of knowing the history and workings of the Row has never been greater.

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Recently my girlfriend floated the idea of trip to Scotland in the spring to see a friend of hers from college. My understanding is that although Glasgow would be our ultimate destination – I’d get to spend a couple days in and around London first. Naturally this has got the Row on my mind.

There are approximately twenty tailors operating on Savile Row proper, and countless others who have set up shop just off the hallowed strip. Though from the curb it may be hard to distinguish one tailor from his neighbour, each outpost of bespoke suit making has a history, expertise, and subtle style uniquely theirs.

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An article I read recently on The Rake about Dege & Skinner reminded me that before anyone gets serious about making their first bespoke purchase they had better do their homework.

Dege & Skinner was founded in 1865, and is one of the oldest firms still trading on the Row, holding the royal warrants of HM The Queen, HM The Sultan of Oman and HM The King of Bahrain. Known for its military and equestrian pedigree (military tailoring is 25% of the firm’s business), and as the master of bespoke ceremonial uniform, Dege & Skinner fitted the Princes William and Harry in dress uniforms for a Royal Portrait in 2009.

Royalty aside, it is quite rare for a firm on the Row to disclose its client list. While to North American audiences this rather reclusive practice may invite criticisms of squandered marketing opportunities, the client’s of Savile Row appreciate the discretion. When your work speaks for itself, and your business has spanned more than a century, word of mouth is a form of advertising that no marketing campaign could ever mirror.

Despite the best efforts of the modest and conservative tailors on the Row, occasionally the prying eyes of #menswear do get a glimpse of which celebrities frequent which tailors – in some cases to the chagrin of the firm’s I am sure.

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At a recent sale of Michael Jackson’s estate it came to light that he was a Dege & Skinner man. Apparently Dege’s military pedigree and Michael’s passion for epaulettes was a natural pairing.

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In the picture above we see Michael in a Dege jacket, speaking with the King of Bahrain (who awarded Dege & Skinner with a royal warrant). One has to wonder if they found time to talk about anything other than #menswear. 

The Dege cut is not known for being distinctive, not like Anderson & Sheppard, Huntsman or Kilgour – firm’s whose suits are said to be cut with subtle but signature lines that are detectable by those in the know.

Like all the historic Savile Row tailoring workshops, Dege is now populated by an army of young men and women drawn to the trade by a renewed understanding that a nation’s economy stands or falls by its ability to manufacture.  

The emphasis on recruiting, training and retaining the top skilled labour is pronounced at Dege. To put the bona fides of Savile Row tailor in perspective, to become a military tailor or cutter at Dege & Skinner it takes three to five years’ learning under a master, and then a further five years experience to get to the top tier.

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Apprentices are willing to commit this kind of time for many of the same reasons that customers are willing to commit thousands of pounds: because the history of Savile Row says these loyalties are not misplaced. The success and longevity of firms like Dege & Skinner speaks to the enduring quality of their craftsmanship and the calibre of their employees. It would be a difficult task indeed to find clothiers anywhere in the world who have traded out of the same shop, using the same methods, for as long as the tailors of the Row have.

In 2011 Dege & Skinner signed a 15-year lease on No. 10 Savile Row reassuring #menswear enthusiast that recession or not this pillar of the bespoke trade isn’t moving off the Row anytime soon.

Dege may not equal Henry Poole’s full house of 40 Royal Warrants, nor occupy the coveted address of Gieves & Hawkes at No. 1 Savile Row, but if you’re in the market for an understated but sublime English bespoke tailoring experience, one worthy of pop stars and kings, then I understand Dege to be worthwhile port of call. I know I for one will be darkening their doorstep in the spring.

The Suits of James Bond

With the latest James Bond installment, Skyfall, hitting theatres in North America this coming Friday, I thought it would be worthwhile to pay homeage to the character that has given #menswear so much.

Although we didn’t realize it at the time, for most young men James Bond movies were our first exposure to the concept of “dressing well” - to being “debonair”. Though as boys we sat down to watch a Bond flick to see car chases and gunplay, we couldn’t escape the conclusion hat 007 was suave guy, who knew how to handle himself in a shirt and tie. Even at that age it wasn’t a big leap to connect dressing well, and carrying yourself with some confidence, to excelling at your job and talking to beautiful and exotic women. That such an impression can be made on young men who don’t yet fully appreciate what it means to be well dressed, and that this sentiment can be conveyed without trademarked logos or explicit references to clothing labels, is a testament to the Bond franchise, and likely a nod to the timelessness of #menswear.

 

Today I think most men find it hard to walk away from watching a Bond film without thinking about upping their sartorial game. Bond’s style is traditional, conservative and above all masculine, which it what makes it so relatable. 007’s wardrobe is built around well made, and properly tailored suits, shoes and jackets. Nothing more. Bond makes wearing a suit look desirable, attractive, and for lack of a better word “cool.” Seeing 007 wrestle a Russian secret agent, evade capture in a speedboat chase, and share a martini with a stunning woman - all in the same suit - is a message to the masses that suits are more than just stuffy office-wear.

Though the 20th century has had other sharply dressed heroes who have made the transition to the silver screen - Gatbsy and Holmes to name but two - neither of these fictional gentleman have inspired men the same way. The recent Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are a fine example of this. Though Holmes and Watson are unquestionably well dressed throughout these recent Hollywood Blockbusters - their fashions come across slightly affected or cumbersome for many; it is unlikely generations of young men will ever adapt puffy shirts, capes, or three-piece tweed suits for their evening wear. I think the same could be said for the upcoming release of the new Gatsby movie. I don’t doubt the blogosphere will be exploding with discussion over the Brooks Brothers styled outfits, but it is unlikely that bowties and tophats will become widely accepted in the New Year. 

For these reasons Vestis Legis recommends Matt Spaiser’s tireless efforts curating the suits of James Bond. Fabrics, tailors, buttons and lapels – The Suits of James Bond is a blog with some real substance. It’s worth checking out for inspiration, or cheer nostalgia.

 

 

A proper law firm letterhead

It wasn’t so long ago that law firm letterhead would contain the name of every lawyer in the firm.  Though today such layouts are less common, I always take notice of the modern firms that still adhere to this traditional - almost anachronistic - way of doing business. I’ve always thought the practice makes sense: it’s good to know exactly who you are dealing with when you receive any sort or formal correspondence. Putting the names of all the lawyers acting for you, or against you, out in the open is a great way for all concerned to spot potential conflicts, or potential allies.

I was doing some document review the other day when I came across some correspondence from Vancouver’s now defunct firm of Russell & DuMoulin, pictured above. The size and detail of the Russell & DuMoulin letterhead was so impressive I couldn’t help but take a picture (with a regulation size highlighter nearby for scale). As you can see it took almost the entire width of the paper, and about 1/4 of its length, just to list everyone. It’s hard not to be impressed perusing the generous register.

It’s also worth noting that this letter is not an artifact from the legal dark ages, it was written in 1989. I’m not sure why the formal, and rather detailed, letterhead went out of fashion: it’s possible that it was simply a creature of a law society requirement that went extinct when the rule was relaxed; maybe it was nothing more than a conservative form of marketing that has fallen out fashion; or perhaps the lengthy and proud masthead was a casuality of the modern era of national and international law firm mergers. In 2000 Russell & DuMoulin merged with Toronto and Quebec (Montreal and Quebec City) based Fasken Martineau to become the now 770 lawyer-strong Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP. I realize 770 names might be masthead overkill.

Nevertheless, for those firms still small enough to manage it, the traditional legal masthead is a trapping of the profession that’s worth honouring.

You can affidavit your witness; I’m a rising star in this biz-ness. Inspirational. #lawschoolhustlin

The Canadian Heraldic Authority

Heraldry is really awesome. Above is the Coat of Arms for British Columbia. Commit this to memory.

According to the Governor General’s website heraldry began as an “emblematic form of individual identification” for 12th century European knights. When suited and booted in full sets of plate-mail knights were understandably hard to tell apart. This was an unhappy state of affairs for the more stylish of these noble champions. The steezy solution? Shields painted with coats of arms.

When the monarchs realized that “coats of arms” were going to be the next big thing, they took control of the official granting and use of coats of arms, and in the process transformed armorial bearings into a recognized and orderly system of honours and bloodlines. Crispy.

Heralds — court officials who also acted as diplomats — were responsible for curating heraldry within a monarch’s jurisdiction.

Unlike many Canadian traditions that are expressly French or English in their origins, heraldry is a practice that was brought to Canada by both founding nations in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Until heraldry was patriated to Canada, Canadians who wished to acquire arms from a lawfully established authority under the Crown were obliged to apply to one of Her Majesty’s two heraldic offices in the United Kingdom: the College of Arms in London or the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh.

In 1947, the Letters Patent defining the authority of the Governor General expressly authorized the Governor General to exercise all the prerogatives, powers and authorities that His Majesty George VI held as King of Canada.

On June 4, 1988 then Governor General Jeanne Sauvé authorized the creation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, making Canada the first Commonwealth country to patriate the practice of this ancient authority. This was made possible by new Letters Patent, signed by Her Majesty on the advice of Her Canadian Privy Council, which authorized and empowered “the Governor General of Canada to exercise or provide for the exercise of all powers and authorities lawfully belonging to Her Majesty as Queen of Canada in respect of the granting of armorial bearings in Canada”.  

Remarkably, the patriation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority remains the lesser known of the two major “patriations” of formerly British statutes that decade.

Wondering how to get a heritage-inspired modern classic for yourself? Yah, me too. Canadian citizens or corporate bodies desiring to be granted armorial bearings by lawful authority must send to the Chief Herald of Canada a letter stating the wish "to receive armorial bearings from the Canadian Crown under the powers exercised by the Governor General."

Requests for new arms or registrations of existing arms take the form of a “petition” addressed to the Chief Herald of Canada, who must assess and approve the request before a warrant for the grant can be signed by the Herald Chancellor or the Deputy Herald Chancellor.

A herald then works with the petitioner to create a design, which is then rendered artistically by an artist assigned by the Authority. Completed grant or registration documents are recorded in the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada, and the notice of the grant or registration is published in the Canada Gazette. 

In total the process takes about 12-14 months to complete, and will cost you between $2000-$3500. I can’t think of a better investment.