Thursday, December 23, 2010

listen to the sound of my big black boots

by frédérik sisa

When I was much younger and, arguably, much sillier, my eye got stuck on these bad boys and I bought them:


Unfortunately, they didn’t end up meeting my delusional expectations. For one thing, they murdered my heels, which meant I probably didn’t wear them enough to break them in but couldn’t really break them in without fussing with band-aids and the like. Catch-22. Then there was the fact that they took forever to lace up. And if that wasn’t enough, there was also the fact that ultimately most of the boot would get hidden beneath my pant legs, so what was the point of all that effort to achieve the look of a shoe? Besides, it was a lot of boot for a guy who essentially wears sandals most of the time.

I eventually did find a way to make the boots work, by punking it up with, ahem, jean capris and some tough-looking shirts. But still, the boots don’t quite fit right at the ankle. So much for my docs.

The other pair of boots I had was from Aldo; chunky-soled, hardware-enhanced badassery that people nicknamed my “moon boots.” Ah, those were a great pair of boots. Alas, they expired and that was the end of that.

Bootless, I eventually had to set out to fill the gap in my wardrobe. Plenty of sandals and a few shoes, but nothing really hardcore and rugged. Sometime last year, when my wife and I went to the Army surplus store to get some camping gear I spotted the combat boots. Light bulb! Unfortunately,I didn’t find anything that looked or fitted right. A typical brand in stores is Altama, like this pair:

(Image borrowed from www.altama.com.)

Not quite was I was looking for.

Another issue was whether or not to get leather. As an approximate vegan, I struggle with wearing clothes or shoes made from animal products. However, when I looked up vegan combat boots I typical found forums with conservations like this:

Boot wearer: Help! Does anyone know how to break in a pair of vegan combat boots? Potentially helpful person: How long have you been wearing them?
Boot wearer: Two years!

Needless to say, it wasn’t very encouraging and reinforced my suspicion of synthetic materials. So, leather.

A bit of online searching yielded an exciting discovery: Corcoran boots, a brand that’s been around a long time. “From the ‘Original Jump Boot’ that carried paratroopers behind enemy lines in Europe to the newest ‘Combat Boot’ currently being worn in operations in Iraq,” as their website puts it. They have a great selection, but I ultimately settled on the very well-reviewed field boot because of its classic design and cap toe, as well as the fact that they’re made in the USA:

(Image borrowed from www.corcoranandmatterhorn.com.)


Here are the specs from the website:
  • Full grain leather
  • "Spit Shineable" Leather Toe Cap and Counter
  • Unlined
  • High Speed Lace System
  • Internal Ankle Support
  • DRYZ® Cushioned Insole
  • Ribbed Steel Shank
  • Garrison Army Munson Last for Superior Fit
  • Welt Construction
  • Vibram® #134 Rubber Outsole

After a few weeks wearing them, I can safely say that these boots are flat-out awesome. They look great, are quick to lace, and are very comfortable too – I didn’t even have to break them in. Figuring out what to wear with them has been a fun adventure too, and I’ve been playing around with hard and soft style options to achieve a balanced look. For example, this quirky, eclectic, and edgy ensemble consists of the boots, black skinny pants, a loose black sweater, a long vest (grey, with embroidered patterns along the edges) of the kind Indian men wear, and an old-fashioned cap:


There you go. Corcoran field boots.

On that note, this will be the last post of the year. I wish you all the best for the holidays and will see you in January with all sorts of fun fashionable discoveries from the December edition of Unique LA. Until then, I leave you with Trent Reznor’s latest endeavour, How to Destroy Angels, and an appropriate track called BBB:


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

essie's manly man-e-cure

by frédérik sisa

It’s a good thing the word “metrosexual” has quietly slipped out of our vocabulary, if not to die a dignified death in obscurity than at least to stay out of trouble. The word is just too silly, sounding like a fancy term for urban dandy. Of course, there is some substance to the underlying gender-defiant concept. The fashionista with an eye for detail isn’t just a woman or gay man anymore – but was it ever really? After all, even a man can’t look like a million bucks without first racking up the thousand-dollar details, and the best dressed guys have always put themselves together down to the last hair. Looking good, in other words, is always in style no matter who you are. The rest is just the result of too much thinking and way too much judging.

So this week’s post is about one of those little details that do make a difference: nails. As a fashion anarchist who firmly believes that anybody should (be able to) wear whatever they want to wear, whenever and wherever, I’d say kudos to those bold men who choose to paint their nails. After all, colour doesn’t have to be just for women, rock stars, and counterculture subversives. But let’s get back to reality, which is that coloured nails and men, at the moment and for various reasons, make for an uncomfortable or simply unappealing pairing for many people. That’s not an excuse, however, for guys to ignore their hands or settle for giving their nails the odd clumsy bit of filing and trimming once and while when they want something with more polish. There’s an added benefit of ritualizing nail care; it offers a means of overcoming any self-destructive habits one might have.

So what’s a guy to do?

The option for something beyond the basics is typically a clear base coat, something that protects and hardens the nails. But there’s a catch: shine, which can be snazzy or ghastly depending on what you’re looking for. Along comes essie – a brand Aqua swears by; she won’t get a French manicure unless it’s with essie’s “Mademoiselle” – with a product designed especially for men who want to take care of their nails but not get fussy and, ahem, “metro” about it. It’s called Man-E-Cure, and essie’s PR director Arlene Benza kindly answered a few questions:
What led essie to develop Man-E-Cure?

At essie, we love our men! There was no product on the market that would give a man a semi-gloss finish – everything that existed was too shiny.

To address men’s grooming needs, we created Man-E-Cure, a product that would give a subtle, matte finish for well-groomed nails. The packaging even has a soft suede touch brown cap so men can see and feel that the product is just for them.


Does essie have plans to expand their men's product line?

Our Cuticle Pen and Apricot Cuticle Oil are two great products – we recommend them for men as well as for women and children. The award-winning formulas leave cuticles nourished and softened for nicer hands overall. Best of all, it’s easy and fast to use – use a cuticle product at your desk, on the train, at home, etc.

Matte About You, our mattefying nail treatment product, is another one men love. It instantly creates a matte finish, leaving nails cleaner and more groomed.

What are essie's ambitions and goals in terms of men's nail care?

Our belief is that men should be pampered as much as women, and we always encourage men to enjoy the benefits of a manicure and pedicure.
So there you have it; hear, hear! The brand that started in 1981by Essie Weingarten and grew to offer a line of colors, treatments, accessories, spa products, and lip glosses – now offers a matte nail protector for men. How does it measure up to real life?

To answer the question, Arlene kindly sent me over a bottle of Man-E-Cure to try. I admit I was bit worried that it would be too shiny. But no; it’s definitely matte, with just enough reflectivity for a natural look. You could, in principle, achieve the same effect by buffing your nails. Man-E-Cure is less time consuming though – it’s very easy to put on and it doesn’t gloop – and your nails end up with a nice protective layer that does look natural. Key, of course, is the fact that it doesn’t look like wearing nail polish, so for guys who don’t want to look advertise their nails will enjoy the product.

So all and all, essie scores a victory for men’s nail care – Man-E-Cure is easy, looks great, and is a worthy addition to the conscientious man’s arsenal of style. (How’s that for a purple turn of phrase – “arsenal of style?”) My only observation after four days of wear is that it seems to chip off around the edges, but I can’t rule out user error. I’ll follow-up in a future post on my experiments.

Essie sells a ½ ounce bottle for $15 directly from their website, but you can get it for half the price at Amazon.

Many thanks to Arlene Benza for the sample and her time in answering my questions.

Monday, December 6, 2010

men and clogs - the war and peace edition

As I mentioned in my previous post, Lindsey from Every Clog Has Its Day asked me some questions as part of poll on what men would like to see in clogs. Here's my complete answers to the questions.

What do you make of the idea being that standard clogs might be a little too femme in a lot of guys' minds?

I don't know if the issue is so much that men find clogs to be a little too femme as opposed to men reflecting broader cultural attitudes. Clogs in general tend to be the black sheep of the shoe family, even among women. Lagerfeld's use of clogs in his Chanel collection went a long away to changing how people view clogs, but like any trend there are supporters and critics so it remains to be seen how long the love affair with clogs last. Men, I suspect, won't generally be influenced by the ebb and flow of trends, which brings me to t
he more critical second attitude: as a whole, society "fetishizes" women's feet. It's not simply that there is a dizzying number of means with which women can adorn their feet: - shoes, jewelry, nail polish - and men's options tend to stay close to the simple and practical with a few refined designs here and there. It's that women have more fashionable and socially acceptable opportunities to "show off" their feet (and what they put on them) than men do. Whether at the beach or on the red carpet, on the street or in the office, women can bare or conceal their feet as they see fit. Men, however, are limited by societal norms that associate sandals with casual relaxation. A man exposing his feet simply doesn't fit into cultural notions of formal, even elegant menswear.

When it comes to a shoe as unique as clogs, then - especially open-back clogs - I think part of the problem is that there can't be a fashion space for men to wear clogs if there isn't much of a fashion space for men to wear sandals in anything but casual situations. The question becomes less about whether clogs are too femme" but, in what situations can men wear clogs and still have their wardrobe create the impression they want, or are expected, to create?

(guayabera shirt, Dickies pants, sanita clogs)

I'm fortunate in that I work in an office with a relaxed dress code. I've become known for my preference for sandals, to the point that I've occasionally unsettled people by wearing shoes. With a good amount of freedom, I've been able to wear just about what I want to wear, which means I've been able to experiment with taking business casual off the well-trodden path. When the weather is just cool enough to make sandals impractical but not so cold as to require shoes, that's when I wear clogs most often. With the right kind of clothes, I've made it possible to achieve a certain professional look without compromising on my own personal preferences.

My advice to men who might be interested in wearing clogs but are wary of looking "femme" is to consider that how one looks doesn't typically depend on a single accessory like footwear or jewelry. It's the overall look that counts, along with a good posture and a good dose of confidence. So if a man wears clogs with a dress, then yes, he'll look like a cross-dresser even though the clog design itself is gender-neutral. But if he wears clogs with, for example, jeans and a shirt, then he'll just look like a guy wearing clogs, although a particularly "feminine" pair of clogs (i.e. with heels, flowery patterns, or other features that we strongly identify with women) might create an anomaly in the overall look. Context is everything, in other words, and I think guys should be just as fearless in experimenting with fashion as women are.

Do you favor open heel or closed back design?

Personally, I prefer open heels. I like the way the clogs look and feel, of course, and the slip-on ease is wonderful (given my habit of sitting cross-legged, being able to take off my shoes easily is always a plus). But I also think open heels present fashionable possibilities to men that would otherwise be ignored. Open heel clogs can always be worn barefoot, of course, but there's also the option to wear socks and have some fun with that. Instead of the usual black or white socks, there's a cornucopia of socks in different patterns and colours, not to forget departures from the usual sausage casings like toe socks, with which to add some pizazz to an ensemble.

Having said that, there certainly is room for closed-back designs for those situations or ensembles in which open heels don't achieve the right look.

Do you prefer wooden midsoles that are light or dark...or stained black?

My preference really depends on the whole shoe. Since my personal colour palette starts and ends with black, with either grey or sanguinary colours in between, I lean towards dark woods and stains. However, I have seen clogs with light-coloured alder wood footbeds that I would gladly wear because the uppers look great and the alder wood provides a nice contrast.

Which of these upper materials would you prefer: Leather? Suede? Nubuck? Canvas? Denim?

As an approximate vegan, I am wary of animal products and the exploitation/cruelty that comes with them. However, when it comes to footwear I am often compelled to make an exception because synthetic "leathers" and plastics just don't breathe or stretch the way leather does, and many involved highly toxic processes. Still, canvas shoes offer comfort without the need for leather. Materials like denim and hemp also strike me as good alternatives. So while I'm not closed to the idea of leather, I'd love to see clogs made from non-animal, non-plastic materials - it's just better for the environment all-around.

Are there any special design additions that turn you off? Strap over the instep? Strap and buckle? Cap toe? Two tone colors? Harness (such as on a traditional Dingo boot)? Fur trim? Faux laces?

Are there any that you would enjoy?

There's a fine line between the ornamental and the baroque, and while womenswear designers have no fear about skirting that line, let alone utterly obliterating it, menswear seems afraid to get within sight of it. Without crossing into the baroque, I would love to see designers have more fun with ornamentation. Straps, buckles, harnesses, laces, zippers, cap toes, buttons...bring em' on, I say. How about clogs inspired by tanker boots? Clogs with lace-up features inspired by the footwear of choice for Roman soldiers, the ever-popular gladiator sandal?

Insofar as colours are concerned, I think a palette of rich, dark colours would be appealing in addition to the usual black, white, and grey - burgundies, forest greens, burnt oranges, and so on - along with a select few "shock" colours like the gabber blue Ford uses with their Mustangs. Patterns inspired by leaves and vines (as opposed to flowers), provided they are not too florid, would also be tempting.

About the only addition that would turn me off from the get-go are fur trims and animal print designs. I can't see them fitting into my wardrobe either aesthetically or practically.

Would you like a clog boot design more than a clog?

My own definition of clogs steers close to the traditional Swedish design, not so much in terms of material but in terms of form and how we wear them. To that end, while I greatly admire the boots that come from blending clogs and boots into a single design, I feel like the boot element tends to completely the clog aspect. Without the ease that comes with wearing clogs, and with too much of a visual departure for my tastes from the clog look, I take the view that when I want a boot, I'll stick with my Corcoran field boots, and when I want a clog, then I'll stick with the shoe style.

How would you feel about clogs with lug soles?

I like them. Tessa Clogs offers "mountain clogs" with lug soles and illustrate how well the idea works. The rugged look plays into our conventional interpretation of the masculine aesthetic - and they allow for more heavy-duty walking.

What would make a clog something you'd feel more likely to purchase and wear as a man?

Considering that I already own a pair of Sanitas, I obviously don't have any issues with purchasing and wearing traditional clogs as a man. However, I do feel that the barrier for men owning/wearing clogs is pretty high given that the choice starkly boils down to that traditional design in black or brown...or nothing at all. Since the traditional design only pairs well with certain kinds of clothes, it becomes limiting in trying to achieve a more interesting style. And for men who don't find the traditional design appealing or workable in their wardrobe, well, there aren't really many options. Tessa Clogs, at least, offers metallic colours, and Troentorp has robust, classic designs with impeccably good detailing that I find most appealing among all the clog brands I've seen so far.

If I were to sketch out a future direction for men's clog design, I would have to say that I would be most interested in clogs that are imaginative without flamboyance - clogs with architectural and industrial design influences that are manufactured with consideration for the environment using fair labour practices. The rest is marketing and showing men how clogs can work with their wardrobes and personal style.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

And What About the Guys? - Every Clog Has Its Day

by frédérik sisa

As a result of a discussion with a clog designer interested in designing clogs for men, Lindsey Cochran over at Every Clog Has Its Day polled men on what they'd like to see in a clog. Yours truly was graciously invited to participate. I'll post my full answers to the questions sometime soon - naturally, I wrote War and Peace so Lindsey had to trim - but to get the gist of what I had to offer and read what other men have to say on the topic, do click on over to read...

And What About the Guys? - Every Clog Has Its Day

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

3/4 length sleeves but 100% style

by frédérik sisa

I wonder if my fondness for capris stems out of a fondness for quirky clothing dimensions. And I wonder if this fondness for quirky clothing dimensions translated to my yen for a ¾-sleeve shirt. Yeah, that’s it. Maybe I just like those funny in-between dimensions whether it’s for pants or shirts. Ha!

Whatever it is, I had it in mind some time ago to find a ¾ sleeve raglan. It started with a raglan shirt I had made with a log of my own design through Café Press. It was part of my small effort a few years ago to persuade people to choose love instead of supporting California’s hateful Proposition 8. However with Proposition 8 having passed and gone into the realm of litigation, my shirt wasn’t quite relevant anymore. But I really liked the idea of ¾ length sleeves, so I recently set out to find a shirt that was comfortable and relaxed but not so casual I couldn’t wear it to the office.

Then it hit me: buttons. Yeah, buttons. Just the right kind of detail to make a raglan look less t-shirtish and more like a polo shirt, only stylish. At first, I thought I’d have to get a neat raglan somewhere and then figure out a way to add buttons, which obviously wasn’t very sensible thinking on my part. Thankfully, after rummaging through the interweb, I found these unisex ¾ sleeve Raglan Henleys from Alternative Apparel. They’re made with AltApp’s Eco-Heather, a “uniquely imperfect blend of organic cotton, recycled polyester, and naturally occurrind rayon,” with a nice variety of colour options including black, grey, grey/black, grey/green, grey/blue, and grey/red.

For myself, I chose a black and grey/black. I wasn’t in the mood to take self-portraits, so instead I"m offering you better-looking models from the AltApp website:


I fully intend to explore Alternative Apparel in greater depth, but for now I’m happy with what I’m seeing on the website. The company states a commitment to social responsibility – think fair labour and environmentally-friendly. And how do the shirts fit? Like a glove. They’re soft, comfortable…I couldn’t be happier. The ¾ sleeves offer a nice variation on the everyday shirt, the buttons add flair, and overall it takes the dull t-shirt and jeans look and styles it up. And the fact that they’re available for both men and women is a big, big plus in my book.

As a side note, I should mention that I didn’t discover the shirts through AltApp’s website. I came across them at jiffyshirts.com, which priced them at roughly $14, delivered them overnight (well, it would have been overnight if I hadn’t redirected the shipment, but still: overnight delivery at a reasonable cost), and offered excellent service all around.

Note: images are borrowed from Alternative Apparel’s website for illustration purposes only. If the copyright holder objects to their use, I will take the images down.