Who Cares Where a Brand is From?

I was minding my own business scrolling through Tumblr on a Sunday morning, and fifteen minutes later managed to find myself imbroglioed in a promise to write a blog post. The casus bloggi is this post from dirnelli, which led to an exchange on Twitter. To summarize, dirnelli got all #actually on GQ for calling Eidos an “Italian brand” though their designer is American and they do not currently sell in Europe; I got all #actually on his #actually since their designer is an American of Italian descent, and their factory is in Italy, and they are owned by an Italian company; this led to a discussion of whether brand nationality means anything, at which point I felt like 140 characters could no longer contain me. So here I am, taking to Tumblr.

My main point is that if you care about a brand’s nationality, full stop, you are prostrating yourself to the great god of marketing. Because you will perceive a brand’s nationality to be whatever they market themselves as. Eidos markets themselves as an Italian brand, with some justification, mentioned above. Meanwhile Ralph Lauren - considered a thoroughbred American brand - is also made in Italy. As is Huntsman, the doge of Savile Row. French luxury giants under the LVMH umbrella produce much of their goods in China. 

Does this matter? Does Italian manufacture make RL any less of an “American” brand? Should you care? 

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I think I read somewhere once that Tricker’s polish is made by Saphir.

* It has since been brought my attention that Tricker’s polish is in fact made by LCA, which is owned by the same parent company as Saphir, thus the common misconception. Saphir, apparently, does not rebrand their items. Thanks to ivorytowerstyle and The Shoe Snob for the additional info.


The first catechism learned by every aspiring Internet Gentleman (which last year displaced Norm MacDonald’s infamous Crack Whore Trainee as the worst job in the world) is that their interest is in style, not fashion, which is for women, or possibly the gays (NTTAWWT). Style is meant to describe timeless grace, easy elegance, and all that rot, while fashion is about runway shows, new (probably Chinese or Russian) money, and brand whoring. One of the most trafficked menswear blogs is even called Permanent Style in homage to this shibboleth.

The second iGent catechism is that style was brought into its most perfect form at some time in the 30s by men of flawless taste and character, and set down in the pages of the trade publication Apparel Arts so that future generations might receive the good word that the question of what gentlemen should wear had been answered.

Anyone who has ever read even a couple of articles in Apparel Arts knows that this is a ruse.

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Online discussion forums are like fish colonies - they glisten with activity, attract predators, and have very short memories. Styleforum is no different. I only joined in 2011, so I can’t claim to have experienced the “good old days” as longer tenured members love to do so much. But I have spent a fair amount of time reading threads that predate my membership. The nostalgia for those more innocent times has led to some distortion of what the forum was like back then (mostly there were just more and better inside jokes and snark), but there’s quite a bit of valuable content that has been forgotten. Here are some of my favorite threads from days of yore:

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Cameron Wolf an article in Business of Fashion magazine that has me perplexed. The thesis of the piece is that skinny suits of the sort designed by Thom Browne and Hedi Slimane have re-injected men’s suits with a forceful thrust of sex and power. “The slim suit is where sex and power converge,” says Wolf.

Perhaps tellingly, the article’s only photo is a picture of Barack Obama wearing a suit that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the skinny, or shrunken, suit popularized by Browne and Slimane (pictured above - Browne suits on top, Slimane for Dior in the black and white photos). Because nothing about the skinny suit projects sex or power.

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Menswear Store or Strip Club?

Both menswear stores and strip clubs feel the need to disguise their appeals to the vain and pleasure-seeking shoulder devil that whispers into the left ear of every man with a patina of aristocratic decency. Hence such euphemisms as “gentlemen’s club” and “better value in the long run.”

But there are no more gentlemen, only advertisers pandering to men who would like to call themselves gentlemen. As happens often when two sportsmen shoot from opposite sides of a target that does not in fact exist, these advertisers have managed only to ensnare each other, as it is no longer possible for an honorable man to tell apart names of menswear stores from names of strip clubs.

As proof, I present to you the following 12-item quiz.

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Choosing fabric for a bespoke piece can be an overwhelming process. Particularly if you’re working with a traveling tailor and have thirty minutes to get all your fitting and choosing done before the next asshole knocks on the door for his appointment. 

Advice from trusted sources such as strangers on the Internet can be valuable, but you can also peruse much of what’s available from the comfort of your own home, as many merchants now have swatch pictures online. The pictures may not be totally accurate, and of course you won’t be able to feel the fabric until you have it in front of you. But it’s a good place to start narrowing down your search for what you already have in your head, or get ideas for new projects. Here are a few that I know of:

Huddersfield (includes Minnis) 

Fox (mostly flannel)

Scabal (you have to create an account, but it’s easy and their database is searchable)

Harrison’s (includes Lesser, presumably soon W. Bill and Smith’s, which they recently acquired)


Caccioppoli (Not swatch pictures of the whole collection, but their Tumblr shows many of the fabrics they offer)


Hunters (tweed and tartan)

Butt of Lewis (tweed)

Holland and Sherry 

Dugdale Brothers

Vitale Barberis Canonico (usually better to get this through Caccioppoli or Draper’s)

Lovat Mill (via Scotland Shop)

In Tweed (I think the ones with the “LM” codes are from Lovat Mill, not sure about the others)

If you have a favorite that I’ve missed, let me know and I’ll add it in.(thanks to Die, Workwear! for suggesting a few already)



As someone who writes above men’s clothing on a fairly regular basis, you would think I’d have some vocabulary to describe the above object. But I do not. Instead I perform all manner of verbal contortions to avoid naming it. 

You could just call it a “shirt.” This is accurate, but not very precise. In Italian, the word “camicia” means specifically this kind of shirt, one that has buttons on the front and a collar and can be worn with a tie. But in English, “shirt” is a genus, not a species. It can also refer to tee-shirts and Henleys and polos. 

“Collared shirt” is a little more specific but still includes polos. “Button down” might be the most often used, but is inaccurate. Use this term in public enough times and someone will surely take it upon themselves to tell you that “button down” refers to a shirt with a button-down collar, not a buttoned front.

Brooks Brothers uses “dress shirt”, but this term used to refer to shirts worn with black and white tie. Maybe that kind of shirt is now archaic enough that we can shift the meaning, but UK retailers such as Budd and Turnbull and Asser still use the term in its original office, and instead use “formal shirt” for the category I’m trying to name, which to this American ear sounds like a tuxedo shirt.

Is the disagreement over the meaning of “dress shirt” broken into British and American sides? Do any American retailers use “dress shirt” to mean a tuxedo shirt? If not, is this dichotomy tenable or should we allow the American side of the “dress shirt” debate to win? 

If we wanted a new word, what should it be? “Button up” shirt? “Button front” shirt? I await your suggestions.

Update:For those proposing “oxford shirt”, oxford refers to the cloth, not the shirt style. 

Photo from No Man Walks Alone.


It’s easy to pick a good tie, yet few people do it. This is usually because they think a good tie is “boring” or doesn’t “show their personality.” Good ties are not conversation starters.

But if you’re wondering if in your search for more expressive neckwear you have landed upon a “bad tie,” ask yourself if it falls into one of these four categories.


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If you got a tie in this category, you (probably) at least did it on purpose. Not that that’s really an excuse. Unless you’re an actual professional comedian in the middle of performing, you probably don’t want people to laugh as soon as they look at you. But the worst part is that 15 seconds later after the joke has worn off, you’re still wearing that tie. 

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Book Review: The Best Dressed Man in the Room

Classic menswear is constantly at war with itself over how conspicuous a well-dressed man’s clothes should be. The root of this argument is Beau Brummell’s famous quote that “If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed.” This from a man whose every thread and fold were minutely examined by every man in London. The sincerity of Brummell’s quote notwithstanding, the spirit of it - that a man’s dress should play a supporting role in his presentation of himself, yielding the leading role to either the man himself or his date - holds considerable power over the male sex’s natural tendency towards peacockery in the animal kingdom.

Which is what makes it so interesting to me to see the same tension, for different reasons, in gangster dress in Dan FloresThe Best Dressed Man in the Room, available in both hardcover and eBook. These extensive (and, so far as I know, previously unavailable, or at least uncollected) photographs show a group of men with a legal interest in dressing to camouflage themselves among the poor working saps around them, but with the class-anxious businessman’s urge to display personal superiority and financial success. These guys are dressing with a chip on their shoulder, which they try to disguise with a well-formed shoulder pad.

America seems to have an unending fascination with organized crime. For some perhaps it’s the Scarface-style machine gun orgies that are the real attraction, but I think the deeper resonance is with the supposed honor among these thieves - a code (The Wire’s Omar Little - another honorable thief - lived with the maxim, “a man’s gotta have a code”) somehow more dignified and ancient than the rules we live by in a capitalist democracy. It’s a mirage, of course. These were brutal men who made name and fortune for themselves killing people, innocent or otherwise, intimidating others, and stealing whatever they could get their hands on. But their gorgeous clothes are part of what make you wonder.

The book title comes, tellingly, not from an admirer of the criminal underworld, but from Police Chief Lewis Valentine:

Look at him…He’s the best dressed man in the room…When you meet men like Strauss, draw quickly and shoot accurately…Blood should be smeared all over that velvet collar.

He is telling his troops not to be captivated and tricked by the gangster’s costume. That such a forceful speech was required speaks to the power these clothes had.

Today in the United States, thankfully we know this milieu best through its fictional representations, most famously in The Godfather, but in countless films since, and most recently in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a show which demonstrates a corollary of Brummell’s thesis, that costuming without screenplay is an expensive way to produce something worth seeing at the very most an hour every Sunday. But the academic in me is grateful for an opportunity to go straight to source materials, which this book allows more than any other of which I am aware. 

I have amused myself more than once since reading the book wondering what these characters might have thought of a book about their clothing published some 80 years after their hey-day. Some of the photos appear poised to jump off the page to administer a firm beating if you examine their jacket a little too closely. But I think the gangsters might be unsurprised, and perhaps even satisfied, that their wardrobes remain celebrated. These men were brutal, but clever. They understood what it means to project an image. They are still projecting it to us today, long after their misdeeds are through, in black and white photos, some faded enough that their hands almost look clean.

*This review also ran on Styleforum. Thanks to Dan Flores for showing me the book and sharing these images.


I have moved to New York for a few months, which means that I have an obligation to become completely insufferable to all non-New Yorkers, starting with whichever of you fall into that category. Thus this self-centered, rambling post. 

I have always worried that I’m not cool enough to live in New York. I don’t really know what the young kids are wearing these days. My single, lonely, unloved pair of blue jeans probably rue the day they first went home with me. The very idea of associating blue jeans with coolness probably became obsolete a few years before I was born, but lives on in my anachronistic brain.

There was a brief moment on my last day in DC when I thought my current wardrobe had been granted a last minute pardon from a semester of “why are you so dressed up?” questions. Someone whom I admire greatly told me, “Nobody wears jeans in Brooklyn anymore.” (“Oh?”) But then my hopes were dashed. “Everybody wears sweatpants now.” (“Oh.”) 

I remember just before I went to college telling a (probably appalled) family friend that I looked forward to an opportunity to reinvent myself on a blank slate of complete strangers. There’s a temptation - for everyone, but young people especially -  to believe that if you were just a different person, you’d be so much happier.

This time I’m moving to a place that isn’t so strange and with a self that has grown less malleable. I am not planning a reinvention. But places, like great books, are mirrors, and each distorts our reflection in a different way. When confronted with a new one, we can see ourselves in ways that we didn’t before. As I get to know this city better, I hope I will get to know a new part of myself, too. But I don’t think I’ll be buying any sweatpants.     

Looking Back at 2013

2013 transformed Ivory Tower Style in ways that I couldn’t possibly have imagined a year ago. What began two years ago as a posterboard of selfies has metastasized into a diary of thoughts on style, that maddening mixture of idiocy, depravity, elegance, and self-expression and self-delusion that intoxicates us so superficially yet so thoroughly.

Between contributions to Put This On, A Suitable Wardrobe, Styleforum, No Man Walks Alone, and this blog, by my rough reckoning, I’ve written over 40,000 words on style this year. I know, I can’t believe it either. I certainly can’t justify it. But I want to thank you, even if you’ve read just some small fraction of that.

If you’ve come to the blog only recently, or if you want to reblog this on your blog to show what a discerning reader you are and suggest some new reading material for your followers, here are a few of my favorite pieces from this year:

My visit to Steed Tailors in Cumbria and Thoughts on Northampton for Styleforum

Overcoats Should Be Double Breasted, for A Suitable Wardrobe

A Look Back at the Fight of the Century and a peek at the Snuff Boxes of Beau Brummell for No Man Walks Alone 

RISD’s Artist, Rebel, Dandy exhibit for Put This On

A Dictionary of #Menswear Insults, A Consideration of Style and Exclusivity, A Denunciation of the Exclamation Point, and a Deconstruction of the Deconstructed Jacket, all here at Ivory Tower Style.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be on to writing my first words of 2014. But my last words to you in 2013 are to wish you all a safe and joyous New Year’s Eve, and a Happy New Year.


I am 32 years old and have no tattoos, which almost certainly means that I will never have any tattoos. But most of the guys writing about how to wear a tuxedo never wear one either, so I’m not going to let my inexperience stop me from pontificating.

While I do not have any tattoos, I have seen plenty of them on the Internet. Most of them are embarrassingly terrible even in the bloom of youth, which does not portend well for their future. This brings me to my first rule of engagement with tattoos:

Rule #1: Tattoos NEVER get more attractive over time. The rest of you gets uglier. So will your tattoo.

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Some two years after I posted about my admiration for de Monvel prints being conquered by my laziness, I have finally hung up all my pictures. Including the Monvel prints that I bought and framed, and had been sitting unappreciated in a closet. 

I’ve now got one (bottom left, above) next my coat closet that shows an older man dressed in what looks like a red tailcoat helping another nonplussed ginger gentleman in white tie into what may be a green overcoat. His ginger friends already have their green overcoats on, except for the one who I think may be wearing a frock coat, which would have been archaic even when this picture was made. Anyway, I think the older guy is a salesan trying to sell either the hat or the coat or both. But it could be this is a coat check and these gentlemen are all depositing or retrieving their things before heading to the theater.

I’ve got another (top picture above) next to my front door - it shows a man snappily dressed in a double breasted coat, tophat, spats, and cane. It’s next to the door because this is what I imagine myself to look like when I leave the house. He also has an “X” for an eye. I’m not sure if the custom of using the “X”-eye to indicate a dead person predates this picture or not. He may also be blind. Which would make his outfit that much more impressive.

Finally, I’ve got a small picture (bottom right) on the inside of my closet door, next to my ties. A salesman proudly shows off his newest neckwear to a surly cross-armed gentleman. This is what is going on inside my head when I grab ten ties from my closet, thinking any of them would be gorgeous with that day’s outfit, and then upon reflection (in the mirror, of course) end up rejecting them all.

After two years of procrastination, putting the pictures up took about ten minutes. On the whole, I’m very happy with them.


(sung to the tune of ‘Royals’ by Lorde)

I’ve never seen a rental tux in the flesh
I taught the rules of wedding dress to the forums
And I’m not proud of my URL
And the blogs I write, no traffic envy

But every post is like new suit, fresh shoes, selfie in the bathroom,
Sprezz photos, no socks, instakoppin’ Karthoum,
We don’t care, we’re getting reblogged in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Pitti wall, first class, posin’ with your pocket square,
Seven folds, tartans, patina on a Corsair,
We don’t care, we got our own black tie affair.

And we’ll never be blaggers (blaggers).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe swap ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your Tumblr (Tumblr)
You can “like” my selfie
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me wear that Aubercy.

My e-friends and iGents, we ignore la mode.
We count on style and not fashion unless it’s Arnys.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We don’t blog for money.

But every post is like new suit, fresh shoes, selfie in the bathroom,
Sprezz photos, no socks, instakoppin’ Karthoum,
We don’t care, we’re getting reblogged in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Pitti wall, first class, posin’ with your pocket squares,
Seven folds, tartans, patina on a Corsair,
We don’t care, we got our own black tie affair.

And we’ll never be blaggers (blaggers).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe swap ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your Tumblr (Tumblr)
You can “like” my selfie
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me wear that Aubercy.



Last February I went to Paris for the first time. While there, I visited the Musee D’Orsay, an old train station which was turned into a museum about thirty years ago. I went somewhat reluctantly, on the last day of a ten-day trip. I don’t really go in for the Impressionists, which are well represented at the Musee D’Orsay. I was once fascinated with Degas, but his pictures have become monotonous for me and his character repulsive. I still enjoy Toulouse-Lautrec’s bawdy sentimentality, and Gaugin’s Tahiti paintings. But Seurat and Monet make me feel like I’ve eaten too many jelly beans. 

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