Spring Selections - 10 Items for the Warming Weather
Springtime is almost upon us, and although it certainly doesn’t excite the #menswear world like Autumn (does anything come close?), its arrival often brings welcome relief from the cold and anticipation for the summer ahead. And although the season for seersucker and sundresses is nigh, the key to spring is to not jump the gun; embrace the warm weather, but show some restraint. Summer’s not here yet.
For some folks, spring is a time for pastels and bright colors; there’s nothing wrong with that, but as you can see I prefer to keep things simple and muted. I try to move away from the deep, saturated colors of fall and trade those items in for a lighter, dustier-colored palette. Feel free to wear pink chinos and green bowties if that’s what you’re into - this is what you’ll find me wearing.
Have you ever watched as the gross corruption of a once admired public figure was revealed and wondered how he ever fell so far from grace? Dimes to donuts he didn’t wake up one day and decide to pocket a million dollars that wasn’t his.
One of the nice things about living in a big city is that there are always new men’s clothing stores to explore. Sometimes they have been around forever and have been hiding in plain sight, and other times they’re brand new and flying under the radar. When Dustin informed me that a new tailored clothing company was expanding into a lot just a few blocks away from my downtown office I decided to take a peek - enter Beckett & Robb.
Beckett & Robb is quite new to the Bay Area; they moved into Wingtip’s old location at One Embarcadero only three months ago. The company started four years ago as a traveling tailor in the Salt Lake City area and eventually opened up a permanent shop there. They have now opened up here and are looking to expand further along the West Coast in the coming months.
Beckett & Robb is a tailored clothing company specializing in what I’d call “advanced made-to-measure;” in my mind this differs from the normal MTM experience because the measurements are taken in-person by a professional over one or more fittings rather than by the customer, therefore increasing the level of accuracy (if the employee is adequately skilled). This business model is not uncommon; Proper Suit and Michael Andrews “Bespoke” come to mind as purveyors of this method.
There are a few things that made Beckett & Robb intriguing to me. First, it was interesting to learn that every single yard of fabric available (and there are many) comes from a name-brand mill in Italy or England. Fabrics are available from Zegna, Loro Piana, Vitale Barbaris Canonico, and more; VBC comes in at $695 for the cheaper cloths. The second is that suit production takes place in Portugal and the shirt production is in Spain. This has a few advantages: the first is the “made in Europe” label, which is important for those that are uncomfortable with production in far-away East Asia countries. I don’t personally know if their production facility is better or worse than an equivalent Chinese one, but I will be the first to admit that certain countries of origin bring with them a certain level of consumer comfort. The second advantage is one that I found particularly interesting, and would not have figured out on my own. The cost of the fabrics used at B&R is quite high, given then name-brand status, but these prices become much higher when taxes and markups are applied for overseas shipments (often on the order of 200%). Because the factory is in Europe the fabrics can be shipped directly without these markups, which saves everyone involved quite a bit of money.
Outside of fabric styles, the suits come with a variety of detail and construction options. Suits come standard with half-canvas construction, but can be full-canvas or the ever-popular unstructured option. They are constructed in a third-generation tailoring facility that uses a combination of machine work (e.g. fabric cutting) and handwork (collars, sleeves, and buttonholes if you’d like).
I have not yet purchased any of Beckett & Robb’s products, but I’m certainly intrigued. At the very least it will be interesting to see how they grow over the coming months.
There rest of the “Out and About” Series can be found here.
As I’ve mentioned before, men’s clothing enthusiasts often tout the importance of buying high-quality products, an ideal that I generally agree with. Of course, few of us have the funds to buy the best of the best of everything, so the process of finding and purchasing clothing and accessories becomes more of a decision of when to save and when to splurge. Even then, cost does not inherently imply quality, so determining where money is well spent can be difficult. This is a series of posts that show some of my purchases (both expensive and affordable) after a year or more of hard wear in order to display how they have held up over time. Only you can decide what is worth spending on and what isn’t, but the more information you have the better-informed your decision will be.
Although I always liked the idea of dressing well, I didn’t get into it seriously until graduate school. Being at that place in my life made me see that my days as a college student were numbered and that my future career was closing in (if I was lucky enough to get a job). For that reason I wanted to prepare ahead of time in order to get the most out of the small amount of money I had. As engineers - and Jesse Thorn - often say, “Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick Two.” I started hunting for deals on basic and versatile items like khakis and shirts so that I wouldn’t be blindsided at my first job. I made some foolish purchases, but overall it was a lifesaver when I began working and already had a small amount of solid items to turn to.
I digress. These shoes were one of my first purchases in preparation for my career. I bought them in like-new condition off of ebay before secondhand shoes started to get more expensive. I was the only bidder - they were about sixty bucks.
Now that my shoe collection has slowly expanded I don’t need to rely on them as heavily as I did a year or two ago, but they still get used around once per week. I worked them hard and cared for them gently, and they have stood up to everything well. Their color has become richer and more variegated over time and they have remained some of my most comfortable and best-fitting shoes. I could go on about the respectable quality and durability of Allen Edmonds shoes, but I wouldn’t be saying anything that hasn’t been said many times before. Instead, I’ll tell you an interesting story.
After a few months of wearing these shoes I noticed that the rubber on one of the heels started to detach and flap around. This surprised me a bit since I had received the shoes in new condition and had been caring for them properly. Not sure if the issue was inconsequential or a harbinger of bad things, I stopped by the San Francisco Allen Edmonds store for an expert opinion. The store associate assured me that the issue was minor and that any competent cobbler could fix it. He then told me that they’d be happy to take care of it for me. This made me somewhat uncomfortable; I sheepishly explained that I had bought the shoes off of ebay and it felt dishonest to use any sort of store warranty. The man remained unphased and assured me that it was really no problem at all. A few days later they arrived in a box from Wisconsin, nicely repaired and polished. I was stunned. Good companies earn my business not only because of quality products but because of quality customer service. Allen Edmonds is one of those companies.
Would I pay full price ($345) for these shoes? I don’t think so. The “entry level shoe” market has gotten more crowded in the past couple of years and the choices are far more vast compared to what they once were. However, Allen Edmonds shoes are often on sale and when that is the case I think that they are still among the best options for quality shoes at a reasonable price. Not only that but the shoes are much more accessible than the many online-only storefronts so many people can find a place to try them in person, which makes all the difference. Combine that with the recrafting service, large variety of sizes, and the great customer service and it starts to look like a pretty good deal.
Granted, those that are looking for a sleek English oxford will not find it at Allen Edmonds. Nonetheless, the American sensibility and “not too formal, not too casual” look that their classic models provide work well for most lifestyles and provide a great starting point for the man looking to understand what a quality shoe really looks like.
The rest of the “One Year Later” series can be found here.
Looking awesome. I’m sure that will last another decade or so.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like we’re in the middle of a very exciting time period for menswear. Small companies like Kent Wang, Sam Hober, Howard Yount and Vanda are creating quite a stir with wonderful products at great prices. Website-driven companies like Ratio, Proper Cloth, and Ledbury are changing the way we think about shirts, and now we’re seeing folks like Beckett and Robb and Proper Suit push the limits of what made-to-measure can be. Other companies like Warby Parker and Gustin also are helping bring high quality products down to very accessible levels.
On that note, I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Manuel Rappard, founder of a company called RPMWEST. Like many San Franciscans, Manuel worked in the tech field for a number of years; however, his interest in clothing eventually led him leave his job at Google and try to create something different. Of course, “different” is getting more and more difficult to achieve in the menswear market but I found his business model intriguing.
RPMWEST is taking a concept we’ve seen before but applying it to something new: raw selvage denim. They’re using what could be referred to as the “Warby Parker” approach and sending each customer three different pairs of denim to try on, and offering free returns on all the pairs that don’t fit perfectly. This sounds very compelling to me as raw denim is something that is notoriously difficult to size correctly, especially when buying online.
The home try-on idea is interesting, but what really got my attention is that, similar to Gustin, they are offering high-end raw selvage denim (in this case, 13 oz. red selvage denim from a well-known Japanese mill) at an attractive pricepoint of $95. The jeans are produced in the fair city of San Francisco. There are currently two fits that look to fit comfortably into the “slim-straight” and “tapered” categories. The styling looks to be minimal and subdued, which is generally considered as a major plus.
Their kickstarter campaign begins today and if the company reaches their goal of $50,000 then they will be able to implement their home try-on program. I should make it clear that I am not yet a backer of their kickstarter and I have no firsthand experience with the product. Nonetheless, it does seem to be an attractive concept and I’m excited to see where it goes.
After poring over fabric books, lapel styles, and horn buttons for a couple hours with Dustin I was ready to begin the most important part of the made-to-measure experience - the fitting. Picking fabric and style options is lots of fun (although my choices were very tame), but the most crucial part of the process is making sure that you are properly measured.
Beckett & Robb’s measurement process consists of many body measurements as well as garment adjustments taken from some standard-sized suits in the store. The measurements are very thorough and account for a variety of parameters outside of what the standard online MTM companies offer. Things like shoulder slope, posture, sleeve pitch, button stance, and trouser rise (both front and back) are all very important to a well-fitting suit but are generally not captured in a “blind” MTM experience since they are difficult to determine with a measuring tape. Of course, I have yet to see how the final product incorporates these values but it was good to know that they were acknowledged and included.
The suit samples (made of a Loro Piana grey worsted wool) were helpful in that they gave a general idea of what the final product might look like. My suit won’t look that similar to the sample I worked with (no skinny lapels, for instance), but it helped me see changes in real time and how they might affect the end product. For instance, button stance is a powerful factor in a suit’s look but it can be hard to visualize. The samples allowed me to see the effects of moving it up and down directly (I moved it down to a slightly more traditional level).
One particular area that Dustin and I spent a lot of time poring over was my shoulders and deciding how to best address them. You see, although I have a slim build I have surprisingly broad shoulders with a heavy slope. The slope in particular causes problems and is difficult to address well. In the end we went with a lightly padded shoulder that hopefully will address my heavy slope in an attractive way. I know shoulders with any padding at all seem almost passé at the moment but it’s a classic silhouette (especially for a suit) and at the end of the day I relate more with the British tailoring traditions than with the Neopolitan style that is so popular nowadays. I am a descendant of Caledonia and the Emerald Isles, after all. Anyway, I’m curious to see how they turn out.
All in all, Dustin was very capable and seemed to have a good handle on what he was doing. It should go without saying that the end result can only be as good as the person measuring it (which is why blind MTM suits can be so risky), so I was pleased that Dustin and I had similar taste and wanted the same things from the fitting. I was also able to rely on Dustin when my own knowledge was lacking - although I like to pretend to have a wealth of knowledge on things like this there are certainly topcis I don’t fully understand and Dustin was able to offer good advice when needed.
As could be expected from a perfectionist like myself, I find it easy to work myself into a tizzy about whether the suit will fit right or not. To me, though, that’s almost part of starting a clothing commission with a new company - the fear and excitement of waiting for a product being made solely for you. My suit should be arriving in the next week or two, so we’ll soon find out.
There’s been a decent amount of chatter about Beckett & Robb, a made-to-measure clothing outfit from Salt Lake City that recently came to San Francisco (admittedly, a good deal of that chatter has come from my blog). I have seen their products in person a few times and have spoken about how their company works but since I have never owned one of their products the information I’ve given has been limited. Fortunately, that is about to change - I decided to approach Beckett & Robb recently and asked that they make a suit for me.
Although a large portion of the project financed by myself, in the interest of full disclosure I should make it clear that I am receiving a discount for sharing my experience. Nonetheless, I am putting my money where my mouth is and I will be honest about the whole process. I have been curious to learn more because the company’s business model seems to offer a good product.
Nonetheless, it took a while before I decided to give Beckett & Robb a try. Although their company sounded promising on paper I was still skeptical after looking through their online product photos. The suits were often very “GQ” - cut agressively slim and short, with “flashy” fabrics and details. However, when I met Dustin (one of two people working in their SF store in Embarcadero Center) I immediately felt a sense of camaraderie in the way we dressed. His suits and sportcoats were made by Beckett & Robb, of course, but he dresses with a very classic sensibility and I was happy to see that his product was able to capture that. This was crucial for me; I wanted to make sure that I shared the idea of how a suit should look with the person helping me design it. Our conversations about favorite blogs and looks we love (and hate) have only reaffirmed that we have similar views of what the end product should look like.
Beckett & Robb carries wonderful fabrics from a wide variety of high-end mills. These include Loro Piana, Zenga, Reda, Vitale Barberis Canonico, Ariston, and more. They have dozens of fabric books that are truly delightful to flip through. It’s worth noting that although two-piece suits start at around $700, the fabric selection at this pricepoint is limited. Most of their selection is above the $1000 mark. In fairness, some standard fabrics were out of stock when I went in and I believe that they are looking to expand the selection below the $1k point. Nonetheless, I went in looking for a standard mid-grey worsted wool and found that it didn’t really exist in the standard fabrics - there were dark and light gray worsteds, mid-gray flannels,mid- gray worsteds with purple pinstripes, but some holes in basic categories like gray and navy (at the sub-1k pricepoint). I don’t think that this is a “bait and switch” tactic, just the reality of the stock they have combined with the fact that all the mills they use are well-known and expensive. Nonetheless, it’s worth pointing out.
I ended up picking out a lovely mid-gray 10.5 oz. fabric from VBC that I can’t accurately describe - it definitely isn’t a typical worsted wool; it carries some texture (but isn’t a flannel), and is very interesting for a solid fabric. It is pictured above. After the stress of agonizing over fabrics Dustin and I poured a drink and moved on to the details.
The choices for suiting details were plentiful. There were extensive options for liner fabric, pockets, lapel style and width, horn and corozo buttons, trouser style, and so forth. I went with very straightforward options - flap pockets, average notch lapels, waist side adjusters, and lightly structured shoulders. In my MTM experiences I find that starting simple is essential. You should look at the first made-to-measure (or bespoke, if you’re lucky) experience with a maker as the beginning of a potential relationship - start by dipping your toes in the water, for your sake and theirs. Your first order is a starting point. Refrain from succumbing to the siren call of “customization,” which can lead to a more expensive (and less wearable) garment, which is especially frustrating if it doesn’t turn out how you expect.
I also think that when beginning a MTM commission it’s important to go in knowing what you want (and making sure that it aligns with what that company produces). Dustin did a great job of providing good input when I needed it but had I gone in with no idea of what I wanted it would be easy to end up with an unfamiliar product. Go in with a strong sense of what you need and take advantage of their expertise where your own knowledge is limited.
Although the fitting and design generally take place in one meeting, I spent so long debating over fabrics that we had to call it a day and schedule the fitting for another time. My experience in that arena will be up soon.