Vestis Legis

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

The Numbers Game

I was suit shopping with a friend a couple weekends ago when we were introduced to the Brooks Brothers Special Order program. In our case my friend wanted a Milano suit  (Brooks Brothers slimmest cut, with natural shoulders) in grey or charcoal. The problem was Milano suits only come in navy blue. Salvation came in the form of the Brooks Brothers Special Order program. The Special Order program allows the customer to select a model of suit currently in production, and modify it with a selection of premium fabrics, liners, and details not found on suits regularly stocked.

Made-to-measure this is not; the purchaser is still limited to standard sizing, but at least he has the option of ordering his jacket and pants in sizes that are not necessarily paired together (a 40R suit traditionally comes with 34 waist pants for example).

Though the thought of a tone-on-tone paisley liner in your new Brooks Brothers suit certainly helps close the deal, the real value in the Special Order program is the better fabrics. You pay a premium for a Special Order suit, but the better wool makes the upgrade an investment rather than a mere indulgence in flashy bemberg.

How a suit holds together over time, how it creases when you sit, how it breathes, and how it hangs when you stand is largely determined by the quality of wool it’s cut from. Yes, the construction of the suit is important too (floating or fused canvas? Natural or padded shoulders?) but for those of us who buy off the peg – quality of wool is probably the single biggest indicator of the calibre of a suit. When paying a little extra for better wool is an option, it’s always worth doing.

But how do you evaluate the quality of wool a suit is made from? The simplest answer to this question is to trust your senses: handling the suit thoroughly, and inspecting it closely for defects in the weaving are good first steps.

Good worsted wool should be soft, consistent in texture, and smooth. While good wool will have some natural oils in it, under no circumstances should wool feel greasy. Some manufacturers will dress-up poorer quality wool with chemicals to give it a uniform sheen, and cover up defects. These chemicals will break down over time, and leave you disappointed with a second-rate product. After being crumpled in your hand, a sleeve should fall naturally back into place. The wool should also have a natural elasticity, rebounding quickly from a slight tug.

A close examination of the wool itself will also tell you a lot about the craftsmanship that went into the manufacturing of the fabric. A tailor of mine used to remind me of this whenever I brought him in a suit jacket to alter. Although more apparent on patterned materials, wool that has been cheaply woven will be riddled with slight imperfections: missing or raised threads, miss-coloured threads, or threads that are knotted, broken or woven out of sync. While these imperfections are rarely so egregious as to attract the ire of the casual observer, they are indicative of a poorly woven fabric that was likely sourced for a cheaply made suit.

A superficial examination of fabric will only take you so far: you must also consult the label. It is here where you are likely to see the familiar label “Super 100s” or “S120s” or something of the like. I hear that on Savile Row you can find Super 250s. But what does this mean? And is it a reliable indicator of quality?

Answering this question involves a little bit of historical understanding, but the short answer is “no”.

Nearly all the suiting-grade wool produced today comes from Australia, and to a lesser degree New Zealand and Tasmania. But Australia does not have a large weaving industry. For over 150 years the fleece of Australian sheep has been spun into yarn, and that yarn spun into cloth, in factories in England and Italy. 

The City of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, was formerly the epicentre of the world’s wool trade. Here, in the mid-19th century before modern grading technology could measure the width of a single thread of yarn, the “fineness” of wool was judged by how much yarn could be spun out of one pound of the stuff. The finer the fibres the more “hanks” (a spool totaling 560 yards of yarn) could be spun out of a single pound of wool. Thus a “60s” count wool meant that one pound of the yarn could yield 60 hanks. The higher the count number, the finer the wool. Finer wool is softer, silkier, lighter, and of course proportionately harder to source.

Various parts of the sheep, and indeed different breeds of sheep, produce fleece of different quality. Spainish sheep (merinos) in the early years of wool production produced the finest fibres in the world, their undercoats could produce wool as fine as 70s and 80s. Not content, Australian growers eager to break into the Savile Row market (who demanded the finest wools available) relied on selective breeding practices to produce generations of sheep with undercoats that were finer still than the 70s and 80s counts that had long dominated the high-end wool market.

During this period fibre count numbers were strictly an industry measuring stick that the average consumer would never encounter. This changed in the 1960s when Joseph Lumb & Sons – perhaps the most famous spinners of the day – introduced to Savile Row the 100s count wool and branded it “Lumb’s Huddersfield Super 100s.” The choice of the adjective Super proved to be such a powerful marketing tool that the suiting world has never looked back. The introduction of the Super 100s wool was to #menswear what the four-minute mile was to track and field: it was not only ground breaking event, but also a new industry standard.

By the early 1990s, “Super” 120s had become the industry standard fabric for a decent high-end suit, with 150s available for those with expensive tastes. Today the most exclusive brands don’t work with anything below 150s and are more likely to use 180s.

It’s worth noting that “hanks” are no longer used to grade wool destined for commercial use. Raw wool is now evaluated using industry standards related to the thickness of the natural fibres, as measured in microns under a microscope. This system is unquestionably more accurate than its predecessor, but nevertheless the measurements are still scaled in the traditional way. For example any raw wool measured to be finer than 18.5 microns is said to be at least “100s Grade”. 

The rise of the Supers however has been controversial. Thread count was never meant to be an exact science, instead it was shorthand for wool merchants to sort fabrics without close examination. Indeed until recently even good cloth labeled as 90s might have had a smattering of thicker 60s or 70s unavoidably mixed in. I suspect that even today, despite improved sorting and grading technology, wools out of less reputable mills are likely several counts courser then they advertise.

Like everything you read on a label, be skeptical: if it seems too good to be true it probably is. Good wool is expensive. Comparatively few sheep can produce especially fine wool. So when you’re talking about wool finer than 150s you are talking about a true luxury product. If the made-to-measure suit you’re looking at online is advertising that it’s made of 120s wool, but costs less than $500, I don’t know what you’re getting but its not 120s wool.

Ultimately there is more to wool than fibre diameter. The length of the fibres, the amount and quality of lanolin and natural oil present in the fabric, as well the strength and consistency of the weave itself are all integral to the quality of the finished product. Another consideration is warmth and wear and tear. The finer the fabric, the lighter the suit. The finer the fabric the quicker the suit may wear. While these aren’t significant considerations for most consumers buying in the 100s - 120s range, if you start looking at 150s or finer it can start to be an issue.

The moral of the story is this: trust your instincts when shopping for a new suit, and don’t get too caught up in the numbers game. 

 

Thanks to Nicholas Antongiavanni  and his book, “The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style,” published last year by Collins.

The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London. Required autumn reading. A virtual “to-do” list.

The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London. Required autumn reading. A virtual “to-do” list.

Sleeve Garters. Next Level Gentleman Steeze.

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.

February, 1985. The Nova Scotia Law News. “Addressing the Court”, a short article on courtroom etiquette and decorum by Robert Huestis, Q.C. Observations and advice as true then as they are now.

February, 1985. The Nova Scotia Law News. “Addressing the Court”, a short article on courtroom etiquette and decorum by Robert Huestis, Q.C. Observations and advice as true then as they are now.

The Problem With Cheap Belts

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.

The Rideau Club, Ottawa

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.

Barristers Only. The Barrister’s Lounge. The Law Courts. Vancouver, British Columbia.

Barristers Only. The Barrister’s Lounge. The Law Courts. Vancouver, British Columbia.

Antique Elephants

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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.

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Our accommodations were first rate: on the water, in a bungalow teeming with character. The food, the views, and the company were all brilliant.

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This was the kind of place that you hope, if you play your cards right, you too can own someday.

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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. 

15-year-old single malt. One of only 480. Tobermory, Isle of Mull. Founded as the Ledaig Distillery by John Sinclair in 1797. Became an early casualty of the Depression and closed in 1930. Restored in 1972.  Specially selected and bottled for the Vancouver Club. The benefits of membership.

15-year-old single malt. One of only 480. Tobermory, Isle of Mull. Founded as the Ledaig Distillery by John Sinclair in 1797. Became an early casualty of the Depression and closed in 1930. Restored in 1972.  Specially selected and bottled for the Vancouver Club. The benefits of membership.

A cigar box full of pocket squares

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.