Monday, December 27, 2010

5 things every man should own

This isn't meant as a comprehensive list of things a man should own. These aren't essential items to life. These are things that will enrich your life, and make you a better human being. Five things in no particular order:

Tuxedo

This should go without saying, but every man should own the most manly of outfits: the tuxedo. Over the past few decades, the tuxedo has devolved into a sorry parody of itself (much like the tuxedo-toting Pierce Brosnan James Bond). It has gotten so bad that men everywhere dread wearing them, and most certainly don't own one. But in recent years, it has made a comeback.

The reason why you should own a tux are many. But let's begin with the reason why so many men hate wearing them: rental tuxedos are ugly, uncomfortable, and they make an otherwise fit gentleman look like Tweedle Dee.

What is a tuxedo?
Simply put, a tuxedo is a semi-formal suit made of black material. What distinguishes a tuxedo from a black suit are the lapels and pants. The lapels of a tuxedo are made of a shiny material such as grosgrain or satin. A matching material is also applied to the outer seam on the pants providing a shiny stripe on the leg. Things like waistcoats and cummerbunds are optional, and I don't recommend them.

What's wrong with rental tuxedos?
Rental suits are made to fit the maximum number of men possible. It seems like the measurements they take of you in the store are just for show - part of the experience. I remember getting my measurements back once which were far off from my real measurements. I'm a 38 chest, and they had 44 written down. Plainly put, they're too big. They hang from your shoulders with too much material, making it look like you're wearing a parachute. They provide no form, so that masculine figure is hidden beneath the lumps of material. Finally, they're made from polyester for ease of cleaning, which is the worst material for suiting. Polyester doesn't breath as well as other fabrics, meaning you're hot and sweaty.

Another reason to own instead of renting is for economic reasons. A custom-fitted tuxedo (with custom shirt) will run just under $500 from Indochino. In my young adult life, I have been in at least six wedding parties so far, and I have more single friends ready to get married. I've easily spend $175 on each rental. If I had invested in my own tuxedo from the get-go, I could have saved over $500 already, I would have looked better, and I would have been more comfortable.

How should my tuxedo fit?
A tuxedo jacket, just like a suit jacket, is designed to accentuate the male figure. Strong shoulders, tight waist and tall silhouette are all very masculine. The suit jacket has some padding in the shoulder to make the shoulders stronger. The V shape of the lapels make the waist thinner, and the torso taller. The dark suiting material make the whole figure look taller. All of these are lost in off-the-rack suits and rental tuxedos, built for one-size-fits-all. Without proper fit, you will look bad, and will cherish the time the suit comes off.

A proper fitting jacket will hug your shoulders without pulling the shoulder or lapels. A simple test is to put the jacket on and lean the shoulder against the wall. The shoulder seam should hit the wall with your shoulder. The shoulder should not hit first, and your shoulder should not hit first. They should both hit together. The jacket sleeve should reach your wrist bone with your arms at your side. The waist should button comfortably allowing your fist to barely fit between your belly button and the jacket button. The jacket tails should fit inside your cupped hands as they hang at your side. It should not bunch in your hand, and it should not be too short to not be inside your cupped fingers. Here is a great guide.

What color should my tuxedo be?
There are really only two colors a tuxedo should come in. White or black. White jackets should be paired with black pants. But this is for a "white tie" affair. The vast majority of people will never attend such an event. Stick with a black tuxedo. (A midnight blue tuxedo is an acceptable substitute for black as it is so deep the two colors are hardly distinguishable.) Do not stray from this. Any time you would wear a tuxedo, you should not be trying to stand out from the crowd. These are worn at formal events where someone is usually honored, and it's usually not you. Be respectful.

Because too many people don't pay attention, here's one more reason to stick with the rules: Men's tuxedos (and lounge suits) are dark for two reasons.

  1. Dark colors are slimming (see above)
  2. The man's colors are dark so as to not attract attention away from the woman they are escorting.

Be respectful.

The shirt of a tuxedo is always white. The tie color may change if you are part of a wedding party, but generally the tie is black (of the same material as the lapels). A white linen pocket square is usually the finishing touch. Always wear freshly-shined black leather shoes.

What material should my tuxedo me made from?
Wool. Not wool-polyester blend. Not wool-cotton blend. Not Poly-cotton blend. Not polyester. Just wool. The lining will be made from satin. Anything else will be poor quality.



Wristwatch

In the "digital age" we don't have as much need for a timekeeping device as we once did. I have at least five time-telling devices on my desk. But don't think of a wristwatch as just a timekeeping device, think of it as a time machine.

Being plugged into the internet 24 hours a day, the analog wristwatch connects the man with the past, with masculine heritage. A well-made wristwatch also connects the man with the future. The watch has long been the inheritable treasure from father to son, connecting generations through a timeless timekeeper.

What kind of watch should I own?
Not just any watch will do. This is an investment you will make once in your lifetime, to last past your own expiration date. While you don't necessarily have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a Rolex Submariner, it's best to invest in a classically timeless timepiece.

The movement should be analog, not digital. Your watch shouldn't have a battery. It will keep time through a process called "manual" or "automatic." Manual movement requires periodic winding of a knob to keep it moving. Automatic movement will use the normal movement of the wrist to keep itself wound.

Make sure the watch is built of high-quality materials by a highly-regarded company with years of experience. There are plenty of wristwatch sources to research the ideal watch for yourself. I'll get you started with Watchonista.

Pen

There is something remarkable about signing your own name with a hefty pen. But why should you invest in an expensive pen when cheap ones work just fine? One reason is self-satisfaction. A good pen is a work of fine craftsmanship. Another is knowing you always have a trusty pen on hand at all times. While some may envy your pen, they won't be confused thinking they can take the pen with them when they're done. When you pull that pen out of your pocket, you will be sure to put it right back when you're done.

What kind of pen should I own?
There are five basic types of pens, but you should only concern yourself with two.

  • Fountain pen. This pen is for the most daring individual. Used for centuries, the fountain pen uses a water-based liquid ink delivered from a reservoir through a thin slit of a pointed metal tip called a nib. This requires deliberate writing, and practiced penmanship as the pen is not pressed into the paper, but gently glides along top.
  • Rollerball pen. Don't let the name fool you, this is not a ballpoint pen (nor does it have anything to do with the terrible movies). The rollerball pen is a happy medium between a ballpoint pen and the fountain pen, and is generally less expensive than the fountain pen. Using water-based ink, the writing seems into the paper instead of drying on the surface, making a more satisfying character.
Pens can be inexpensive, or reach into the thousands of dollars. Yes, there are pen enthusiast clubs, so if you want to find some professional help selecting a pen, start with them.

Black Leather Oxfords

Every man should own a pair of handcrafted black leather oxfords. If you don't own another pair of dress shoes at all, you definitely should have these. They can be worn with casual clothes, business attire, or formal wear. Well-built ones will last you most of your life with proper care.

A good pair of shoes made from a quality company will be made from leather. The sole will be leather stitched to the leather upper. The heel will be made of wood with rubber.

These shoes will be cared for by placing cedar shoe trees inside them after taking them off. This will absorb moisture, keep the shape of the shoe, and fight odor. At least once per month, the shoe will be cleaned and polished. To learn how to shine, see this article.

Things to consider:

  • Avoid trends. You want a shoe that will last a lifetime without telling the world you're stuck in the past. Timeless shoes for timeless gentlemen.
  • Round toe is the way to go. Square toes are out of fashion now, but they were really only in fashion for a few years for the first time since Blackbeard terrorized the Eastern Seaboard. They were trendy then, and if they come back they will be trendy again. Round toes are not trendy, they will always be stylish.
  • Cap toes are less formal than plain toes. But with a good pair of shoes (like those pictured above) will look just as good in formal situations.

You really can't go wrong with a shoe like this. It will always look good with any outfit.

Shaving Kit

Every man should already have some sort of shaving gear, but you don't want to be everyman, you want to be exceptional. You want to own a proper shaving kit.

What is included in a shaving kit?
  • Razor You might not be ready to go with a straight razor, so stick with what you're comfortable with. Ditch the cheap razor, though, and get a nice steel or aluminum one. They are made to fit Mach 3 or Mach 4 blades, but they look better and will last longer. Or you can go old school and get a safety razor, which uses individual double-edged razor blades. Both razors have their benefits and weaknesses. The new technology razors have the benefit of being faster to use, and less risk of cutting your face. The safety razor has the benefit of being less expensive in the long run. After the initial investment in the razor, the blades are less than $0.50 each (compared with $2.50 each for Mach 4 blades). Professional barbers also recommend them for gentlemen who develop rashes with regular blades. As the safety razor only has one blade, there is less friction than multi-blade razors. The drawbacks of the safety razor are twofold: It's easier to cut yourself with these blades, and it takes longer to shave.
  • Brush A badger-hair brush has long been the go-to for men. The brush develops soap or cream into a lather, and the bristles help scrub dead skin off the follicles, and lift the hair off the face for a closer shave. Yes, spraying gel from a can is faster, but it's hard to beat a brush and soap.
  • Bowl Shaving soap can develop a very frothy lather, so you'll want a bowl. Shaving bowls or mugs store the soap and provide a place to whip up a lather. It's essential when using a brush.
With these items, the gentleman will have a more enriched, fulfilling life. I'm not the materialistic type of person. I don't think a man has to own everything, or anything to be happy. I take pleasure in little things. In experiencing a fine wine, or a juicy steak. These five things are not just stuff to have, they're experiential. Using them is indulging in the finer things of life. They might cost a few pennies to obtain, but they're each an investment that will last a lifetime.

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