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Bits from Billax

Billax Collar Roll Featured

We were all bummed out when Billax left the blogger scene. It sucked. It was like when Heavy Tweed Jacket shut down his blog in the past. It’s not that I don’t understand, because I do. Blogging comes with a lot of baggage and sometimes you need a break. Heavy Tweed Jacket returned in the form of Tumblr (Heavy Tweed Jacket) and Billax was just recently spotted by Put this On the blog posting on the Menswear forum, Style Forum.
7 OCBDS with Collar RollBillax post on Style Forum does not disappoint. The king of collar roll showcases the collar roll of 7 OCBDs in this order Mercer (Pink Uni Stripe), The Knottery, J. Press, Brooks Brothers, Land’s End, O’Connell’s, and Kamakura. For those of us who are obsessed with button-down collars post like these are invaluable. For more details on the comparison check out the his full post here, Billax on Style Forum.

If this post did not quench your thirst for Ivy League Style advice dispensed by someone who lived through these times I have another link for you. Prior to Billax launching his blog he would allow me to publish some of his long form forum posts. This link will take you to these posts – Billax archive on the OCBD blog.

Billax’s made up rules for TNSIL apparel – Shoe impact

Shetland Herringbone Tweed with AE loafers
This post is a reprinting of a post on a forum that is frequented by Billax. Billax is not only one of my style role models, but a friend and a man that was Trad back when it was called Ivy League.

Hypothesis/Justification for trousers – cuff/no break and tapered leg casual pants.

I’ve worn the cuff/no break (see here: Cuff, no break)look for 56 years. I’ve also worn tapered-leg-opening casual pants for the same number of years. It’s a deeply ingrained preference for me, but can one work backward to an analytic justification for that look? Maybe.

I’ve been speculating on a set of principles that might/could justify the “look” of the pants I’ve worn so long. I’m at a point where I’ve stopped grinding on it, so I am writing it up to have thoughtful guys tear apart my principles and reasoning. Here goes:

There is one practice I always follow. If you can’t buy in to it as part of this thought experiment, what follows will make little or no sense. Here’s my practice: When standing, while wearing a jacket and tie, I button my jacket, except when wearing a vest or waistcoat. This practice (right or wrong) comes from my principles (up until recently completely inchoate)

Here are my three rules:

1) In TNSIL Men’s apparel all cinches, closures, and adjusters are invisible when standing.

2) In TNSIL Men’s apparel all ornamentation is exposed when standing.

3) When rules 1 and 2 are in conflict, rule 1 takes precedence.

So, what are cinches, closures, and adjusters? Firstly, they are NOT the top layer of apparel. Here’s a partial list:

  • arm bands to adjust sleeve length
  • braces
  • belts
  • shirt buttons
  • tie bars (when used exclusively for promoting tie arch and verticality)
  • shoe laces

All the above serve to organize, adjust, and hold the relative positions of one’s garments. They are not seen by others during business, professional, or formal settings.

Now, what are ornaments?

  • cufflinks & studs
  • Tie Bars that express one’s interests or have a ornamental design element
  • Tassels, horse bit, or penny straps on loafers
  • Lapel pins

 All the above are designed to attract the eye

Issues that come up with my hypothesis:

  1. Shirt buttons are not covered by a bow tie. While I am not a bow tie wearer, I am a Bow tie fan.
  2. Monogrammed and otherwise fancy belt buckles are ornamentation on belts. When standing, while wearing a jacket and tie, a buttoned jacket with TNSIL rise trousers won’t show the ornamented buckle. (Rule 3)

Now, getting to trouser length and leg opening taper, here are side views of a classic dress shoe and a classic loafer. It is not necessary to like or dislike these shoes in order to make my point.
Dress Shoe 1Tassel Loafer 1

I’ll add a black rectangular overlay to represent trousers as they touch the dress shoe and the loafer.

First, a very dressy captoe – Allen Edmond’s Park avenue. To meet Rule 1, the leg opening must cover all the shoe laces on this 6 eyelet shoe. This shoe widens the required leg opening, and because of the high quarters on dress shoes, exposes no sock.
Blocked Dress ShoeSecond, an ornamented loafer – Allen Edmond’s Manchester. To meet Rule 2, the trouser leg must be both more narrow and sit a bit higher on the shoe. In addition, the low quarters on loafers will expose a little sock at the requisite height for ornamentation to show.. Whether the ornamentation on the loafer is a penny strap, a horse bit Gucci, or a tassel, the same result occurs – trou are narrower and sit higher on the shoe when wearing the more casual shoe.
Blocked LoaferException 1: Monk Straps and double Monk straps require trousers to drape lower on the shoe than any other footwear, so as to not violate Rule 1, which states that all cinches and closures must be covered when standing. No getting around it, monk straps are problematic for the TNSIL guy. Maybe that’s why I have never owned a pair.

Exception 2: Venetian loafers have no ornamentation and no closures, thereby having no min/max point for trouser height or width. Fifty-two years ago I bought my first (and only) pair of Venetians. I could not make them look “correct” with trousers of any height or width. That was the first time I ever thought to myself that, “There should always be some natural suggestion as to the relationship between apparel elements.” Still think that.

So, loafers with their ornamentation and lower quarters look best with a slightly narrower leg opening and sit slightly higher on the shoe. Laced dress shoes require trousers with a slightly wider leg opening sitting a little lower on the vamp. Socks will show with ornamented loafers, given their lower quarters. Socks will not show on dress shoes. THIS IS A DESIGN FEATURE, NOT A DEFECT. Any way, that’s my story and I’m sticking’ to it!

 Thoughts?

Cuff, No Break by Billax

Shetland Herringbone Tweed with AE loafers

This post is a reprinting of a post on a forum that is frequented by Billax. Billax is not only one of my style role models, but a friend and a man that was Trad back when it was called Ivy League.

A few days ago, I responded to a member of the Talk Ivy forum, who asked about the details he should seek in a pair of trousers. I Whipcords with AE loafersthought I’d cross-post it here,

I’m on a fairly steep learning curve regarding the finer details of Ivy garb and am struggling to find information regarding trousers (of the slightly more formal variety such as flannels, tweeds, gabardines etc. as opposed to khakis or jeans).

Thanks.

The poster continued, noting that he knew flat front trousers were a requirement, then asked for the next most important feature. I responded as follows:

A friend, who is an Architecture Professor, asserted that the most important class he taught to Architecture students was Joints, Intersections, and Edges. When things go awry in those areas, the building fails – both functionally and aesthetically. In mens apparel, the two areas most likely to fail are at the top and at the bottom.

I believe the importance of joints, intersections, and edges at the top is pretty well understood: the importance of the relationships between shirt, tie, jacket, lapel, notch shape, gorge height, and collar roll is a focal point of men who care about their appearance. It is, after all, what they see in the mirror every morning.

Not one man in a thousand has a mirror to see the equally important bottom of one’s outfit. Yet, those bottom elements – trouser length, crease, cuff, socks, and shoes – are easily seen by everyone who looks at you. It’s often said – and it’s true for me – that when one business or professional man is introduced to another, the first thing looked at is the other man’s shoes. Style, condition, edge dressed, polished – check, check, check, check. But if the joints, intersections, and edges of the bottom aren’t “right,” well, that’s noted and filed away. In the Ivy League Look, the gold standard has remained unchanged for a long, long time. To wit:

In 1954, Life Magazine had an article about the Ivy League Look sweeping the country. The following photograph appeared therein:

Salesman at J.Press New HavenThis picture is of a Salesman at J. Press New Haven.

 When I went to college (Fall of 1959 to Winter of 1964), I was lucky enough to work part-time in the Campus Ivy shop at my Midwestern University. Mr. Ross, the proprietor, was as fastidious a dresser as I’ve ever met – and he wanted me to represent the same style and values he had. Though I didn’t wear braces –then or now – when he saw me come in to work, he’d give me a once over, particularly checking to see that I had no break in my trousers. If he spotted anything other than a knife blade crease, he’d gently say, “Adjust your braces, Bill,” knowing full well I wore a belt. I must have disappointed him one time too many, for he once said to me, “It is better to endure the occasional flood than to live in a perpetual puddle.” It was then that I took the words of this diminutive and dapper Scotsman to heart!

A little more than a year ago, my youngest son entered college. I went with him for a couple of days to help him move into his dorm and to buy him a few items of clothing I thought he was missing. We stopped at J. Press, where Tony, the alterations tailor who has worked there since 1968, fitted him for a couple of pairs of trousers. As he bent down to chalk the hems, he asked, “Cuff, no break?” While posed as a question, it was really a suggestion. I smiled slightly, then nodded. The words were so familiar, it seemed as though I was back in college.

So, for sixty years now, there has been a set of men who are keepers of that flame. I am content to live in the flickering light of that flame. Plenty of others will disagree….

Thanks for asking!

I have included a few examples below of “Cuff, no break.”
White Linens with Rancourt buckle loafers

Poplins with AE loafers Covert cloth with AE CaptoesDonegal odd trousers with AE loafersFine donegal with AE CaptoesFlannel Chalk Stripe with AE whole cuts

Sweating the Small Stuff by Billax

bd4ff16d

The following is a reprinting of a post by Billax. Billax is not only one of my style role models, but a friend and a man that was Trad back when it was called Ivy League style. He has allowed me to share many of his thoughts all of which can be found here: Sneakers by Billax, loafers by Billax, Uprising by Billax

“Sweating the small stuff” is at the heart of a number of detail oriented endeavors and projects. In underwriting securities, the Banker and the Analyst sweat the small stuff. Every risk factor is covered, every significant corporate assertion is fact-checked, and the financial statements are double and triple checked with the auditors. Big software projects “sweat the small stuff” to assure security, interaction with other software systems, and protect against hacker attacks. Hmmm. Given the massive problems with a current big software project, I’ll modify my assertion to say that all big software projects, SHOULD sweat the small stuff.

On a much less consequential level, I’d bet that each of us sweats the small stuff in our attire. I ‘sweat’ some things and overlook others. I turn a blind eye to details that are unimportant to me. I suspect that each of us would have a different list of the things we sweat and the things we don’t. Here are my ‘sweat’ and ‘no sweat’ lists:

Billax

 Sweat:

• Collar roll

• Tie dimple

• Matching the color of tab leather on surcingle belts to shoe color

• Edge dressing on shoes

• Cuff no break

• Jacket buttoned when standing, save when wearing waistcoat or sweater vest

• Every time I get dressed, I get my gig line straight

 No Sweat:

• Tie bottom above or below belt

• Shoe laces tied exactly perpendicular to tongue

• Pocket square, if it’s easy to find an appropriate one, I will, if not, then not.

• Wearing seasonal shoes (e.g., white bucks) beyond their annual expiration date

• Matching blade width of tie exactly to lapel width

• Matching sock color to pants or shoe color, especially when worn with sweaters or sport coats

• Etc….

 So, what do you sweat and what are you unwilling to futz around with?

Sneakers by BIllax

US Rubber Keds Ad 2

This post is a reprinting of a post on a forum that is frequented by Billax. Billax is not only one of my style role models, but a friend and a man that was Trad back when it was called Ivy League. If you have not read the other posts that I have reprinted of his I strongly suggest that you do: Uprising by Billax & Loafers by Billax

I first started noticing clothes as a HS Senior in 1958, when two of my college-attending cousins came home for family Thanksgiving. While one cousin went to Northwestern and the other to Cornell, they showed up for Thanksgiving in near-identical outfits: OCBD, Shetland sweaters (one a crew & the other a V neck), khakis, Wigwam socks and Bass Weejuns. I deduced a uniform for college attire. Keds 1960Since I was in the middle of college applications myself, I asked my folks for Christmas presents of “clothing the cousins wore.”

Once in college, I had the great good fortune to work in a Men’s clothing store that catered to the “Natural Shoulder” crowd. I learned more about men’s clothing from the proprietor of that store than I have learned since. I considered him a great mentor. He’d open up OCBDs from Sero, Gant, and Troy Guild and take me through the – often minute – differences among them. Stuck with me. It was his contention that “Natural” meant more than shoulders. Natural shoulders, natural fibers, natural (vegetable and insect) dyes all went together, according to my boss. I lapped up every distinction he threw at me. To this day, he remains the best teacher I’ve ever encountered.

In March of this year, my youngest son was accepted to his dream school – Yale. His Christmas presents reprised the requests I made to my parents more than 50 years ago. I hope the my gifts to the boy “take.” But, turning on the “way back machine,” here’s what was on my mind 54 years ago.

The Choices I made:
When I started getting interested in clothes in late 1958, I had to select shoes, socks, pants, shirts, sweaters, ties, sport coats, suits and outerwear in preparation for heading off to college in the Fall of 1959. Based on recollection, pictures from my photo albums from the time, and limited by a faulty memory, I propose to go through my preferences from 1958-1964 in every category of apparel. Here were the contenders in each category, from the bottom up:

Sneakers

All white was the only way to go in my High School and throughout my college days (1959-1964).

Vintage Converse Ad

Converse All Stars: The company was founded in 1908 and has been a leading factor in plimsolls ever since. Their Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars and Jack Purcell tennies were legendary sport shoes even then. They soared in popularity in the late 1950s and ’60s, but never rivaled Sperry or Keds. Here’s the current Converse All-Star model:
White Chuck Taylors

Chuck Taylors 1960
College kid in Chuck Taylors 1960

Keds champions: US Rubber, now Uniroyal, created its iconic shoe, “The Champion” in 1916. Popularly known as the “sneaker,” Keds created a new category of footwear – a shoe so quiet you could sneak up on people! It’s been embedded in popular culture ever since. In four more years, the Champion will have been on the market for 100 years! Here’s the current “Champion Original” model:

Keds Champions

College Kid in Keds 1960College kid in Keds 1960

Sperry Sneaker Topsiders:  Sperry started making sneakers in 1935. They continue making them to this day. They became quite popular and their ubiquitous blue stripe around the top of the sole made them easily identifiable. In my circles, Sperry’s rivaled Keds for “most sought after” sneaker.
Sperry SneakerVan’s: Van’s didn’t come along until 1966, long after I’d made my decision to go with Keds. They were a part of the skate board phenomenon, but they were – and are – very popular. The company was founded in Anaheim, California and has always had a slightly “bad boy” vibe to me. I’ll admit that it appealed for that reason, but it was too late for me. I was a Keds guy. Here’s the current version of their original sneaker, the Authentic:

Vans Authentic

Which did I choose and why?
In late 1958, sneakers were just starting to be cool in my High School. I went to the department store and saw the Converse, Sperry and Keds sneakers. I chose the Keds Champions because:
• they had a slightly thinner sole, they were entirely white (no stripe)
• the eyelet layout looked more like a regular shoe than Converse. All in, they were more modest and minimalist. As one who finds the foot the least endearing appendage, I’m not inclined to dramatize it. For that reason, Keds were an easy choice.
Which sneaker became more popular?
In my circles, Keds by a smidge over Sperrys and by a mile over Converse! Vans wasn’t in business then. Still saw a fair number of Converse All Stars, but Keds simpler, slimmer, less decorated look was what the market wanted. These were among the first Unisex apparel categories. They were just as popular with girls as they were with guys. If someone told me I couldn’t wear Keds, I’d be OK with Sperrys. If I could only buy Converse sneakers, well, I’d give up sneakers entirely.

If I had it all to do over again, would I change?
Nope. Still wear Keds Champions – fifty four years later – probably once every ten days – more often in the Summer, less frequently in the cooler months.
Keds King of Courts Ad