Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: Sebastian Ward Shirts (Blue & White Stripe)

I first heard about Sebastian Ward as I do many new clothing companies, on the Ask Andy Forums. It came up in a discussion about the merits of taller collars for longer necked people. Most off the rack shirt collars are made in just one height. It can be a little frustrating to those of us who want a taller collar for our giraffe necks but mostly have to make do. Of course, they are passable and most people but us won't notice. One of our newest yet quite knowledgeable members mentioned Sebastian Ward as an option for those who are looking for such an animal. It was easy to see why he was a satisfied customer, looking at the website. The features these shirts boasted were ones normally only available by bespoke. For good reason -- the shirts are made by Mel Gambert Bespoke of Newark, New Jersey.

The taller, curved, wide spread collar is a feature listed as "helping frame the face", though I believe it's best worn by taller people or those with a longer than usual neck. Otherwise it may simply overwhelm your features. The sleeves are done a bit differently from most shirts, instead having a snug cuff and longer length to allow for more movement in concert with the higher armholes. I found it had the added benefit of keeping your hands dressed at all times and ensuring the shirt cuffs never disappear into your jacket sleeves. (An annoying habit some shirts can have even when you get just the right amount of cuff showing.) I'm not going to say one way is necessarily right over the other. Merely a matter of preference, even to bespoke shirtmakers.

About a month ago I came into contact with Christopher Berry, founder of Sebastian Ward, and we agreed to do a review to give some constructive feedback and spread the word about his brand. To that end, he sent me a blue and white striped shirt which is essentially a Bengal stripe. This is actually a good idea for shirt reviews since it shows how skilled in pattern matching the tailors are. He explained the genesis of how he designed these shirts, being inspired by Victorian clothing (much of which was designed for horseback riding, necessitating a full range of motion) and the frustration of shirts that didn't let him move around as well as he'd like without binding uncomfortably or becoming untucked in the process. In designing the shirts, he got his hands on every book about drafting shirt patterns as he could and designed probably the best Australian mother of pearl shirt button I've seen. Basically, he had already done most of Gambert's homework for them. What a guy. We need more like him.

Overall, I really do like the shirt. However, I think there needs to be an actual fused, folded over placket for stability rather than the soft French (seamless) front on these. It would cause less gaping between the buttons when seated. It's not as if this shirt is any slimmer than the ones I have either. Which is good, as I agree with them that tighter is not better -- there needs to be enough fabric that it's still comfortable and looks like a man's shirt. In fact, upon measuring, the fit in a 16/36.75 (I normally wear a 35" sleeve) is nearly identical to Ledbury's in a 16/35 down to the extra long shirt tails. I suppose great minds think alike? The sleeves and hips are a bit slimmer than Ledbury, but that's about it.

Another area that could improve is in the sewing of the buttons, despite how well designed they are. Ledbury and many other shirts in this price range have thread wrapped button shanks. This is especially noticeable in how short the slack is, causing a bit of a "bubble" effect around the seamless placket.

While we're comparing to Ledbury, it's worth noting that the collar bands are similarly fused from the outside in, giving it better stability and making it more comfortable to wear around the neck.

The fabric is beautiful, soft, and light two-ply 100s broadcloth. It irons pretty easily and doesn't wrinkle like hell. But then, I'd expect no less of Thomas Mason fabric.

More observations (and actual pictures!) below.

Simple, sturdy little box. Unseen is the neat little plastic window at the top side, perhaps used at the warehouse to identify the shirt fabrics at a glance.

Fairly standard tissue wrapping.

Some may be disappointed at the lack of a split yoke, though some shirtmakers disagree about how useful they are, especially in ready-to-wear shirts.

Here you can see the unique, seamless way they integrate the stay pockets into the rest of the collar. It's a small thing to be sure, but it makes the collar look even cleaner in design when worn with a tie.

Gussets. Though controversial with some clothing addicts and shirtmakers, I think these actually help since they expand when sitting.

Darts in back, something I like as it gives shirts a little more shape than side seams alone can. I used to dislike them from a distance, but upon trying on Ledbury's original line of shirts my opinion changed. I was later disappointed when they took them off due to customer complaints.

The barrel cuff design. The buttons are close to the bottom edge so a watch can be worn while still maintaining the snug cuff and longer sleeve. Brooks Brothers and Mercer & Sons do this on their shirt cuffs, though for different reasons. Some say it was originally to fold back and keep your cuffs clean when writing with fountain pens.

Reinforcement at the bottom of the placket on both sides. Nice touch.

The plastic collar stays have some jagged edges and might do some damage to the stay pockets over time. Not great for a $175 shirt and something that needs immediate improvement, in my opinion.

True to their word, my watch slid inside the cuff pretty easily and still shows the right amount with a jacket.

This is the only area where the collar design falls short, no pun intended. The points are certainly long and flamboyant, but the stays tend to creep up within minutes of wearing and a good 3/4" of the ends are flat against my chest. Though I understand wanting to make sure the collar points meet the lapels, they do not quite need to be 4.25" long.

Nice pattern matching from yoke to sleeve.

So, would I recommend this shirt? Yes. With some slight reservations. Namely that the collar design is not universally flattering and the stays definitely need better quality control. Some of the aforementioned issues could simply be attributed to the way Mel Gambert makes their shirts. Still, for $175, consumers rightfully demand that things be perfect.

This is only the "first phase" of their clothing line. Christopher plans to add more options and a MTM service for shirts later on, with other clothing items currently in the planning stages. Tomorrow, their showroom will have its grand opening in New York City. Check it out if you're in the area! Tickets are free and it sounds like it's going to be a blast.

DISCLAIMER: Nouveau Vintage received material compensation for this review. However, every effort has been made to remain objective.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

New things from Proper Cloth

Proper Cloth is a company I've watched for a while. They boast one of the best collar selections you can find in an online shirtmaker and a pretty well featured set of fit options.

In the last year they've expanded into other clothing and accessories. Most recently, ready to wear cashmere sweaters have been the focus. Along with that are ready to wear suits and sport coats as well as a selection of ties, pocket squares, jewelry, and scarves. This is a curious development for a company that's been almost exclusively focused on made to measure shirts for the better part of its life.

But going back to shirts, there has been an interesting addition to their rather extensive collar lineup: A hidden button-down shirt. Most examples people think of look a little too '90s, narrow, and lifeless. This one basically looks like a semi-spread collar without the stays (but also without the negatives of doing so).

Doesn't look very dated and eliminates the need for collar stays.

If you take the plunge and try out Proper Cloth for the first time, remember to use my referral link for $10 off your first order.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Easier way to iron a shirt from Sebastian Ward

I don't always know everything or can present it in an interesting way. In these cases I'll just link you the original content since they explain it much better than I can.

You'd think there's no wrong way to press a shirt and, for the most part, you'd be right. It mostly comes down to remembering to press from the collar point inward and subjective debates of whether or not you need to press a crease into the sleeves or double cuffs. (I'm in the no sleeve crease camp and never press any into my cuffs.) But certainly there are ways to make it faster and less frustrating.

Enter Sebastian Ward. Besides having a few nifty innovations for their own shirts, they've figured out a quicker and easier way to press your shirt on their blog. I would personally do it the night before rather than morning of work like they suggest, but these tips are still pretty sound.

Take a gander, try it out, and let me know if it's helped your shirt pressing routine as well.

I don't know about seven minutes, but it's certainly less frustrating than what I was doing before!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: Butler Luxury Suit Hangers

This review has been some time coming so my thanks to Mike Cregan, the kind gentleman behind Butler Luxury, for his patience.

Butler Luxury, subtitled "Exceptional Elegance", was founded several years ago and has provided luxury hangers to other companies for some time. Only recently did they open their doors to sell directly to the public. Since then, they've been another force to be reckoned with in the luxury hanger business.

Many in the online menswear community will know about Kirby Allison's Hanger Project. They were the first to innovate properly sized hangers according to your jacket (and later shirt) size. Continuing in this vain, Butler Luxury also offers sized hangers. The reason being that your jacket shoulders will not always match the width of standard jacket and suit hangers.

I was sent an 18" Deep Butterscotch finish suit hanger to review. I could have perhaps gone down a size, since the front tips of the hangers protrude slightly from under the jacket shoulders. It is probably best to go according to their size guide, which is slightly different from Hanger Project.

On an old Brooks Brothers suit with 18.5" shoulders.

The biggest difference from them and HP is in the proportions. Much has been made of this online and in the end it is up to you to decide what is best. On paper, HP sounds like the better option. The bigger curve in back and wider, rounder shoulders better mimic the human frame. Yet Butler Luxury has the clear advantage in balancing space saving and proper shoulder support. I haven't done any scientific studies of course, yet I find it hard to believe that 2.5" wide versus BL's 2.25" will make that significant a difference. Actually I found it saved more space than even my old standbys, Bed Bath & Beyond's EZ DO Real Hangers, which also come in at 2.5" like HP's but are half the price. (There has certainly been a market for inexpensive alternatives to Hanger Project  since their arrival.)

Different profiles of different hangers. The rest on are EZ DO Real Hangers.

It's a matter of opinion which finish is superior. Hanger Project has a machine painted, high-gloss varnish while Butler Luxury offers a dull, hand painted varnish which allows you see more of the wood's quality and thus adds to the charm. Some believe the Hanger Project finish looks "cheap" with how glossy it is. But there is a clear difference between it and EZ DO seen below as well.

Butler Luxury on left, EZ DO Real Hanger on right.
The size difference is more apparent here than the previous picture.

Besides the varnishing, the hangers themselves are also made by hand which is another advantage over Hanger Project and my own EZ DO hangers. The brass hook also has a ball end, something that improves upon previous versions of Butler Luxury's hangers and HP's looped end hook. It is also wider and thus appears sturdier, less prone to bending.

Butler Luxury in front, EZ DO Real Hanger in back. They are both 18" wide, do not let the perspective fool you.

Both have wide, felted trouser bars to hold them securely in place and without any of the creases that can develop from other methods of hanging folded in half. I was one of those people who was "so over" round trouser bars. It seems I was simply not using the right kind. In over a week of having my suit hung up, they never once fell off while browsing through my tailored clothing; a problem I have had with both conventional wire wrapped wood bars (which I really dislike) and EZ DO's strange plastic teeth that don't really work well at all (seen above).

Butler Luxury does not offer trouser hangers with clamps or men's suit hangers with clips. They do offer women's suit and skirt hangers which have clips. I'm pretty sure your masculinity won't be in question buying the latter, as it looks just like a men's trouser hanger. Hanging trousers folded in half has advantages if your vertical closet space is limited though.

Felted trouser bar

Looking at their other offerings, unfortunately their men's shirt and women's suit hangers only come in one size. I'd like to see them offer the same advantages as their suit and coat hangers at some point.

Overall, I'd give the advantage to Butler Luxury's suit and coat hangers based on all these facts. While a few dollars more than Hanger Project, they save space better while basically doing the same thing and are technically superior in every other way. They also offer bulk pricing, bringing them down in price closer to HP. If there is one thing I'd change it would be to make the shoulder ends rounder. I would also add more information on the website as to how they work better than ordinary suit and coat hangers for the average consumer. For the sake of fairness though, I will probably purchase and review a Hanger Project suit hanger at some point and review it.

A big thanks to Mike Cregan of Butler Luxury for sending this suit hanger to review.

DISCLAIMER: Nouveau Vintage received material compensation for this review. However, every effort has been made to remain objective.

EDIT: Mike Cregan plans to offer another size of men's shirt hanger in the coming months as well as deluxe garment bags and an even more luxurious line of hangers. Stay tuned, I'll try to cover those when they come out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ledbury reintroduces sweaters for fall season

Ledbury, another one of my favourite online menswear companies, has reintroduced their sweater line for this fall.

"Anyone can get a sweater anywhere."

Yes, I know, but hear me out. The thing that caught my eye last fall when they were introduced was the fact that they weren't an ultra fine gauge and have a deeper V than is now common. This allows them to be just a bit warmer and show more shirt collar and tie than your average department store V-neck.

If anyone has tried their sweaters from last fall, let me know how they are. I'm interested in buying one for the incoming cold weather. They're bound to have more styles available as winter approaches. Last year had some thicker gauge and crew neck options as well.

Don't forget if you decide to shop that my referral link gets you $25 off your first purchase.

The Navy Barnes V-Neck Sweater

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ratio Clothing improves sizing, adds more options

Today, Ratio Clothing unveiled Ratio Blueprint; a new way to find your exact shirt sizes and adjust them to your preference. This brings them in line with Proper Cloth's advanced sizing options. (I liked their extensive sizing and collar options, but was disappointed with the department store quality of the shirt for the price.) There are advanced options that one can access, provided you know what you're doing. You can also just input the measurements of a well fitting shirt if you want.

Among the new features that place them above Proper Cloth's options is the ability to lower or raise the second button of your shirt. So if you like the way Ledbury spaces the top two buttons, you can do the same. Contrariwise, if you prefer the way a lot of English makers have the second button close to the top you can also do that. It goes up to one and half inches either way in quarter inch increments. Another nifty advanced feature is adjusting the shoulder slope, for both or just one side.

There should be new collar and cuff options on the website sometime soon, according to Eric. I've discussed these before in the past, so if you know about the "secret" options already it may not be a surprise. Still, I can't wait for them to be readily available without needing to add a bunch of text in the comment box before ordering.

Simple, clean, unfettered. They do a good job of offering lots of size variables without overwhelming visually.

Trouser Front Styles

Most men know of only two styles of trouser front -- plain* and pleated. Increasingly they believe that plain front is the best and pleated fronts are for old men. Whatever you choose is up to you alone. There is nothing intrinsically bad about either, it is merely a matter of preference and comfort. I bet anything that pleats will come back into fashion before you know it (because they have gone in and out a few times since their innovation) and the same people who banished them from their wardrobes due to being unfashionable will soon embrace them again. But there's more behind it than meets the eye.

*Also called flat front, but I'm not fond of the term for reasons I can't quite explain.

The original trousers as we know them had no pleats or creases at all and, contrary to some sources, did not come about as a way to ration fabric in World War II. I'm not sure how this story is still circulating since you'll most definitely see them in pictures of men from the 1920s and earlier. Pleats were slowly gaining ground around that time, perhaps because men had been wearing the plain front style for so long. The earliest picture I can find of trouser pleats is on the Prince of Wales (better known as Edward VIII once crowned and then the Duke of Windsor after his controversial abdication) in 1919, paired with the period style high fastening two button jacket.

Call him a cad, deserter, Nazi sympathizer, and all around nasty person if you want, but he did help innovate or popularize menswear details we take for granted now.

The first trouser pleats faced forward (towards the fly), but Americans and Italians were soon making their own versions with the pleats reversed. Why they did this I am not sure and cannot seem to find any information on. It is counter-intuitive to keeping the pleats laying flat when not in use and can makes one's hips look bigger, so I don't why it caught on as well as it did.

The most common trouser pleat style now is double reverse. This is what you'll see on the majority of trousers today -- well, those that still have pleats -- and what most people think of when they put down pleated trousers as looking dumpy and frumpy. To look good, double reverse pleats need to fit very well on one's body. Even then I'd argue double forward pleats are superior. In the UK, a single pleat either forward or reverse is also commonly done. It looks a bit trimmer than double pleats but doesn't expand as much when sitting down.

Besides forward pleats, the second most overlooked trouser style has darts in the front. Yes, darts. The same tailoring feature that shapes the waist of a jacket will also create just enough ease in a trouser, so they are not as binding as plain fronts can be. They mostly seem to be used by bespoke tailors and high end menswear clothiers now (such as Brioni), perhaps because they require more work to make than a true plain front. It's a shame that these are not more popular now, but the low rise slim fit trend is probably the reason.

Darted front trousers as seen on an English Cut MTM suit.

What trouser style do you prefer and why?