Superfluous? Maybe. But nothing shows off your gentleman bona fides quite like old-boy armbands.
Although you’ve probably never seen anyone actually wearing them, you may have come across them before in movies or old pictures of bartenders, bankers or accountants.
Armbands came into fashion in the mid-1800s as more men started to wear button-up shirts but few could afford to have them properly fitted. A button-up shirt “off the peg” in the 19th century would be sized only around the collar, with the expectation that the rest of the garment would be covered in a jacket or waistcoat - so fit around the sleeves and torso was of little importance. Armbands were relied on to “hold up” sleeves that were too long, essentially giving the illusion that the sleeves were shorter (and thus more fitted) than they actually were.
Bankers and bartenders were particularly reliant on armbands to keep the cuffs of their shirts our of the ink wells and liquor spills. On hot, or especially busy days, when men took off their jackets and rolled up their sleeves, armbands played the additional role keeping otherwise unmanageable folds of sleeve neatly held in place. It is this latter role that I think armbands are still suited for.
Though today everyone can afford dress shirts that are at least roughly sized to their arm length, not all dress shirts are designed to be rolled up. Shirts with French cuffs are an obvious example of this problem: they look brilliant when held firmly in place by a set of cufflinks, but quickly become unruly if you try to remove the cufflinks and roll them up to engross yourself in a project (or lunch).
But even the standard barrel-cuffed shirts, if the sleeve placket lacks a button, can be difficult to roll up. In the photo above I am wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt (pictured in detail below) that lacks a button on the sleeve placket. While for everyday wear this is perfectly acceptable, when trying to roll-up one’s sleeves this can be problematic.
A nicely rolled sleeve is all about tension, and a button on the sleeve placket (see photo below) allows you to manipulate that tension. A tightly rolled-up sleeve not only looks better, but it will stay in place. If you’re unable to get any tension between your arm and your shirt when you’re rolling up your sleeve, it will inevitably come unrolled, or worse you’ll have to keep folding until you’re up over your elbow, and then you’ll just look awkward.
The solution? Armbands. Don’t be turned off by their decidedly non-bourgeois background, since at least Prohibition armbands have been earning their #menswear stripes by not only being a practical accessory, but also an accessory with a story.
Likely they’ll never be part of your daily ensemble, but if you’re digging in for a long evening of doc-review, they may come in handy.
I haven’t always invested in nice things. In some arenas (suits) it was because I couldn’t afford any better than department store quality, but in others (belts) it was because I didn’t know better.
The #menswear universe is all about quality, about investing in well made items that last as long - or longer - than the wearer. This “craftsmanship above all else” mentality is pressed on #menswear enthusiasts through countless cliches and aphorisms: the most expensive item in your wardrobe is the one you never wear; invest in classic items and they’ll never go out of style; if you buy quality in the first place you won’t have to replace it every couple seasons. Only recently have I really started to understand the vernacular.
I think the problem most young men face when outfitting themselves for campus life or the workplace for the first time, is that they actually have no idea what “quality” means. If prior to their dive into the heady world of oxbloods and chinos the shelf-life of their t-shirts and tennis shoes was a couple semesters, then of course they’ve never turned their minds to the question of “how will this______ look in a couple years?” In short most young men don’t actually know it means to have well-made clothing.
The unhappy result of not understanding the difference between well made accessories and department store fodder is showcased in the photo above. This Perry Ellis belt probably cost me $30.00. Sitting on a hook in the store I am sure I thought to myself that this looks just as good as every other belt here, and at a fraction of the price.
I wore the belt above a couple times a week for last the year. Now it is literally falling apart, revealing a gooey and synthetic interior. This is what not buying quality accessories looks like. Even the holes in the belt I rarely use are cracking open. Paradoxically the rest of the belt is just as stiff and shiny as the day I bought it - which is another knock against it. A belt made of actual leather will age and slowly contour to the wearer’s body, picking up some character along the way from nicks and scratches.
I spent $100 to replace this department store belt for a properly made one. I went with an Allen Edmonds belt: made in America, out of real leather.
The moral of the story is this: if you wear a suit every day, you will likely wear a belt every day, so invest in a belt that will last. I do mean invest. I expect that with time my new belt will become softer and more pliable, and like all well made and cared for leather products will only look better over time.
Perhaps at first blush spending $100 on a belt seems a little rich, but if the alternative is spending $30 on a new belt every year (that will never look or feel as good as a nicely worn in one) then you are much worse off in the long run. Buying cheaply made goods, only to watch them fall apart, is not a satisfying feeling. It’s not good for the environment, and it probably didn’t look that good in the first place anyway.
A black or brown leather belt is a workhorse in any wardrobe. It gets almost daily wear, and it will never go out of style. When your current “leather” belt splits on you, do the right thing and replace it with a belt you can be proud of. That is fundamental.
I was in Ottawa this past week for a wedding, and found myself with a couple hours to kill one afternoon. One of the perks of Vancouver Club membership is access to all of its affiliated clubs the world over - and quite a perk it is.
The Rideau Club is conveniently located at 99 Bank St. in downtown Ottawa, in an otherwise unremarkable office tower. However I realized my experience here would be anything but unremarkable as soon as it dawned on me that one of the building’s five elevators was reserved strictly for accessing the Club on the 15th floor. Indeed, it is as peculiar as it is satisfying to enter an elevator in a rather large building where the only button is for the 15th floor.
The moment you step off the elevator you forget that you are in an office building. Although the Rideau Club’s original stand-alone location was lost in a fire in the latter part of the last century, the layout and decoration of their current location creates a comforting warmth of history and tradition. The halls are lined with artifacts and leather wingbacks, and the walls graced with paintings of significant people and places.
With only a couple hours to spare I did not waste any time heading straight for the bar - past a handful of meeting rooms named after former Prime Ministers. After getting sorted out with a scotch and some small talk I retired to the reading room for a perusal of the local papers.
While the size of the Club’s book collection is unremarkable, the quality and the nature of their holdings is rather unique. The two largest categories of books adorning the walls were under the headings “Books About Our Members” and “Books Written By Our Members”. Need anything else be said about the bona fides of the Rideau Club?
I am a big fan of books on procedure - I realize that is probably not a unique trait amongst lawyers. The Canadian Honours System lived up to its billing. In my short time at the Club I did not have enough time to do this wonderful book justice; perhaps I’ll be able to return to it someday. I would recommend it for anyone interested not just in commonwealth military history, but also the history of Canadian civilian honours, politics, and governmental procedure.
In summary my time at the Rideau Club was a sheer pleasure, and I hope my schedule will permit me to come back soon.
Anyone who has spent time traveling between cities knows the feeling of craving some downtime when out and about, and having no where to turn. While a coffee shop may do in a pinch, they can often be crowded and noisy, and lacking in comfortable chairs. The Rideau Club offered me a chance to put my feet up and enjoy some light reading in a quiet and hospitable atmosphere. I left relaxed, and a dare I say a little more cultured. I don’t think I could have asked for more.
I had the privilege of spending a weekend in Sechelt, British Columbia earlier this summer. As far as weekend retreat destinations go, Sechelt is hard to beat. Clocking in at only 2.5 hours outside of Vancouver - including a lovely ferry ride, Sechelt is far enough outside of the city to feel remote, yet close enough to make the journey at 5:00 on a Friday.
Our accommodations were first rate: on the water, in a bungalow teeming with character. The food, the views, and the company were all first rate.
This was the kind of place that you hope, if you play your cards right, you too can own someday.
My elephant heads were actually purchased in the town of Gibsons, about 20 minutes outside of Sechelt. The woman at the antique shop told me that a friend of hers brought them back from India. They aren’t perfectly symmetrical, each one slightly different than the other, but I think I like that better.
I had commissioned a custom wardrobe for my office earlier this summer, and I asked the gentleman sourcing the wood and drawing up the plans to let me worry about the hardware. These unique and sturdy handles were exactly what I was hoping I would find; a detail to add some subtle flare to what will otherwise be a rather conservative piece of office furniture.
As lovely as they are to look at, storing and displaying your collection of pocket squares can actually be frustrating. Unlike ties, which lend themselves to hangers, or hooks, pocket squares are notoriously difficult to store - silk ones especially. Pocket squares don’t stack easily, and if left spread out on a flat surface can get swept away, collect dust, or get lost.
What’s more, I think a collection of pocket squares (even a modest one) is worthy of display. They come in such a variety of colours, textures and patterns that they are pleasing to the eye and often invite conversation.
Like much of my professional wardrobe I keep my pocket squares in my office. The benefits of keeping a stock of shirts, ties and ‘squares at the office are numerous - with ease of pairing or switching any combination of the three on short notice being one of them.
After trying various shelving units and basket options without satisfaction, I settled on an old cigar box as my receptacle of choice to store my pocket square collection. I thought this was rather Martha Stewart of me.
A 25 count cigar box (in my case Fonseca of Cuba) is small enough to sit nicely on a desk or shelf, but deep enough to handle at least ten ‘squares and still be able to close. If your collection is particularly volumious I’d recommend tracking down a 50 count box.
If you aren’t a cigar smoker yourself, and therefore don’t have old boxes kicking around your flat, they can be easily had at a local cigar shop for $5-$10. I’ve seen them at vintage shoppes as well. Be sure to scope out reputable, Cuban brands, as this will ensure your new cigar box is made of Cuban cedar, and likely lined with beautiful and historic artwork.
While I recommend bookending your cigar box pocket square display with volumes of Halsbury’s or old case law reporters, this isn’t strictly necessary.
This beautiful briefcase arrived at my office this afternoon. I must say right off the bat that I am fortunate enough to have an employer that provides an allowance for these sort of things - otherwise a bag of this quality would have to wait for a few more years.
I am not sure how I first came across Clegg’s products, but no doubt it was an ad or review somewhere in the menswear blogosphere. For those of you who don’t know, Frank Clegg Leatherworks is based in Fall River, Massachusetts, and since the 70’s he has been producing fine American leathergoods of unparalleled quality. Although such a claim comes across as a little tired to those of us who fill our days browsing the online boutiques of cottage-industry artisans and other purveyors of high quality goods, I really feel like Frank can back it up.
Before I dove head-first into this purchase I picked up the phone and called the Frank Clegg Leatherworks store. Frank picked up the phone. And we talked, and talked. And talked.
We talked American Briefcases v. English Briefcases. We talked about how his leathers are finished, how they age, how they should be cared for, and how they’d stand up to the Vancouver climate. Frank had no problem shipping out here, he threw in some leather cream samples (enough to do the whole bag), and walked me through how I should apply the treatment.
While I think the real test for a briefcase of this nature, and certainly of this pedigree, is the test of time - I can offer some preliminary observations.
The smell, the feel, and the weight are everything you’d expect. Aside from the solid brass hardware, the bag is literally all leather: no liners, no fillers. In the photo above of the back of the bag you can even make out the faint natural grains in the leather. As someone who spends a fair amount of time around briefcases I can tell you that these trappings of craftsmanship are not common.
Your average briefcase, much like a department store “leather” women’s handbag, is made from some sort of bonded or corrected-grain leather veneer, with a liner made of some synthetic cloth, and likely some plasticky pen holders. Poor quality leather breaks down rather quickly: it cracks and peels. Worse, some bonded leathers refuse to show any sign of wear, so they remain rigid and glossy despite being scuffed and nicked. In either scenario after a few weeks of chambers appearances, poorly made briefcases show their stripes.
In theory this English Briefcase should only get better with age. The leather should develop some real character, garner the occasional compliment in the registry lineup, and dependably tote around pithy applications. I’ll just have to wait a couple years to find out.