Frequently Asked Questions On Men’s Style

Think you’re lost every time you open a closet door? You’re not alone. For many men, closets are the last frontier, a dark place full of dorkishness in its raw state, where one false combination of stripes and patterns can spell fashion death.

So if you don’t know, ask. That’s what these guys did.

Here are some of the more popular Frequently Asked Questions from the Ask Andy About Clothes online Community.

What do you think of cuffs and pleats on dress pants?

Go for cuffs, especially on suit trousers and dress pants.

Not only are they sophisticated and traditional, they’re practical too. Cuffs add extra weight to the bottom allowing the pants to hang better.

Some stores discourage cuffs because it’s more expensive for them to put on, but insist on cuffs. If you’re under 5′ 10″ and have been told that cuffs will make you look shorter, ignore that outdated advice.

Have the tailor make your cuff 1.25″ instead of the usual 1.5″. The same reasoning works for taller men who can request 1.75″ cuffs. Just make sure the pants are long enough to break on the front of your shoe, and remember fabrics will shrink.

Pleats have been fashionable since 1825 and are also practical. They automatically widen at the hips when you sit down giving you more room.

Pleats let you put more stuff in your front pockets (including your hands) without disturbing the drape. Pleats are classic and the combination of pleats and cuffs on trousers are a great look.

Really do these flat front trousers make you look thinner?

What’s the difference between a lamb’s wool and a virgin wool sweater?

Lambswool is the first shearing of wool (sheep’s hair) from a lamb seven to nine months old. It is very soft and finer than wool from mature sheep. Reference: Wikipedia

Virgin wool is not from a sheep kept away from rams, but wool being used for the first time in a garment.

The difference is in the “hand” or feel of the sweater. Lamb’s wool will be softer. And if you like that soft feel and have lots of money check out a cashmere sweater.

Cashmere is made from the wool of the underbelly of a Kashmir goat.

What exactly is the difference between Khaki’s and Chino’s?

Khaki was originally the name of a color, but now chino (the name of a fabric) and Khaki are synonymous with a cotton casual pant.

In 1846 Sir Harry Lumsden commanding an English troop in Punjab, India traded in his bright white Khakis for pajama bottoms to find relief from the heat.

To disguise them he colored them to blend with the local terrain using mazari, a native plant. Thus the birth of Khaki, the Hindu (Urdu) word for “dust”.

As a by-product, Lumsden discovered that the new Khaki pants were more suitable in battle than the white pants, and red tunic. Blending in was good.

Khaki is a color, but is now synonymous with a military twill pant. This color uniforms were introduced for British colonial troops in India in 1848

The color Khaki went from India to the Kaffir War in South Africa in 1851, and then after the Sudan Wars and Afghan Campaign of 1878 it was adopted in 1884 as the official uniform.

The same year Khaki-color dye was patented, and was adopted by other armies, including America for the Spanish- American War in 1898.

Chinos were military issue pants, which were made in China. The British Khakis found their way into China where they were duplicated and sold to American soldiers in the Philippines for uniforms during World War I.

Chinos don’t have to be twill, but are often a firm weave of cotton. Chinos can be Khaki color.

The military style had no pleats and was tapered at the leg bottom to conserve fabric. This pants style remained popular for the military through the Second World War. When soldiers returned to civilian life they continued to wear their military chinos especially to college.

Brooks bros started carrying chinos in 1942.

Are suspenders in Style now?

Suspenders (Braces) are practical and a perfect expression of personal style.

Braces is the British synonym for suspenders and is the word used in most high-end Men’s clothing stores. Suspenders in England hold up a gentleman’s socks.

The American suspenders usually refer to the clip-on variety which should be avoided. Wear the type that attach to the button on the waistband of your trousers. (Your tailor or dry cleaner can put them on for you.)

Braces were de rigueur business dress until the hot summer of 1893 when many men embraced belts. Ironically, braces are cooler since they allow air to circulate more freely than belts. Trousers hang better with braces.

Never wear both braces and a belt, just ignore the belt loops.

When I wear suspenders with my Tuxedo, do I need a cummerbund?

There are two things going on here which seem often to confuse gentlemen!

First formal trousers are held up by (only choice) braces (suspenders in American, but always the kind that attach to buttons inside the trouser waistband!  Sometimes the use of “suspenders” is to describe the clip on type!

The other thing is that the waistband of formal trousers must always be covered!

From the practice of wearing the jacket of White Tie open, and also that the formal shirt has a pleated front (to the waist only, so that it doesn’t buckle when you sit down).  This must be “hidden” at the waist and is always covered!

The choices for this “cover” are cummerbund (has nothing to do with holding up your pants), a vest or a double breasted dinner jacket which is never unbuttoned in public.

Which is more acceptable for business – two or three-button single breasted suits? Which buttons do you button?

They are the same in status and projection of “serious business”.

Double-breasted suits were the standard until the rationing of cloth* during WWII put an end to double-breasted suits.  During and after the war the single breasted suit came into popularity.

*On March 8, 1942 the US Government War Production Board issued regulation L-85.  Excessive cloth became the first casualty of war as pleats, patches, cuffs, vests, and a second pair of pants with suits, all disappeared along with the double-breasted suit until after the war.

The three-button Ivy League suit was the business standard until John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1961.  Kennedy wore a hip/back brace and needed to look longer and bigger in the chest to hide the brace.  His image consultants thought that the two-button suit style hid the brace better.  Like English Royalty, JFK’s lead made the three-button obsolete as every man in America rushed to buy the popular two-button.

The three-button tends to elongate your image, which is great if you’re on the short side, but not so good if you are tall and thin.

When suits became a casualty of the casual business revolution, suit manufactures tried to come up with a reason for buying suits again.  First they reintroduced the three-button suit.  Recently they are pushing the two-button.   Both styles are perfectly acceptable for business, but the style of the momentis the two-button!

Going Out of Fashion

But don’t worry about either going “out of fashion”; rather choose the style you look best in.  Both two and three button jackets are classic, but more than three buttons on your jacket get you into the fashion forward arena, which is more suitable for social events than business.

With two button jackets only the top button is fastened.

With three button jackets, you can close the middle, or middle and top button.  Some suits are made so that the lapels roll to the middle button.  On those suits you leave the top button unfastened.  Some East Coast hipsters fasten only the top of three buttons!

Men’s jackets are not designed to have the bottom button closed. 

Why never button the bottom button of your suit, sports jacket, vest or Cardigan sweater?

King Edward VII, “Bertie”, son of Victoria (1841 – 1910, King 1901 – 1910) was so heavy that he could not get the bottom button fastened on his vest or to be more historically kind, maybe he just forgot.  His subjects taking it as a fashion statement followed his lead and today most men’s suits, sports jackets or vests are not designed to button the bottom button.

The tradition of not buttoning the bottom button may have also come from the early waistcoats, which were very long.  It may have been out of necessity of being able to walk that the bottom buttons were left undone.

Which buttons should be buttoned on a double-breasted suit?

Double-breasted suits are sold in different button configurations, usually indicated at “6 to 2” (meaning six buttons, two to be buttoned) or “6 to 1” (only one button to be closed) or “4 to 1”, etc.

The 6 or 8 button models with all the buttons designed to fasten are primarily Navy uniforms or old Edwardian styles. Most DB jackets will have two functioning buttons.

If you have a DB jacket that has two buttons that function you can close 1) the top working button, 2) both the buttons, like the very conservative Prince Charles, or 3) follow the innovative style of a 1920s Duke of Kent and close only the lower button. This Duke of Kent style presents a longer line to the front of the jacket giving you a long, lean look.

The DB jacket should always been kept closed which can be a disadvantage. If you unbutton your jacket the fabric bulks up around your middle.

What color suits are appropriate for business?

Men’s suits, designed for the dressiest business and social occasions have traditionally been dark in color.  The acceptable colors for suits are navy, gray, and tan (summer) also black, olive and in some cases, brown.

Navy and gray have evolved since they look good with the hair, eye, and skin tones of most men, and dark clothing is slimming.

Traditionally black suits have been acceptable only for social events such as funerals, and evening (after 6 pm) functions. They were not deemed appropriate for business because they were “too” powerful.

Women have made use of the color for both “power” and a sliming effect as they have made entry into business at higher and higher levels over the past decade. This has made the color more popular in male business attire.

I would use caution, depending upon your business and the occasion. I would not wear a black suit for a job interview

Black was the color of choice in England during the end of the reign of Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901).  Her husband, Prince Albert was born the same year as the queen, but died of typhoid fever on December 14, 1861 at Windsor Castle.

After the death of her husband Queen Victoria and most of England wore black clothes for the rest of her life (40 years!).

How should I choose between wide or thin corduroy?

The wide wale corduroy is more casual than the thin, however all corduroy is in the casual dress arena.

Question about Corduroy Pants

The ribs in corduroy are known as wale from the Anglo-Saxon word “walu” meaning “to whip with stripes”.

Either wale is a perfect winter fabric and looks great hanging out at your English country estate for the weekend or for “casual Fridays” at work.

It’s ironic that corduroy is now considered casual given its origins as “corde du roi” – cloth of the king. Maybe not so ironic since it was the uniform for servant’s hunting outfits.

Corduroy was also know as the “velvet of the poor” since it was made from cotton and not silk.

I have ties of different lengths. How do I tie them consistently?

Q: I’ve noticed that my ties are of varying lengths making it difficult to tie consistently. The starting length I use doesn’t work the next time forcing me to retie a few times to get the length just right. Help

Men’s ties have no standard industry length.

There are regular and long (for tall guys), but neither of these has a standard length and can vary quite a bit among manufacturers!

The secret is that the knot is constant! So the solution is to tie your regular tie knot, then carefully untie it so that you can measure the length of tie material that makes up the knot.

My knot happens to be the exact length between the small finger and thumb of my right hand fully stretched out. This is handy for me since I don’t have to take a measuring stick when I travel.

Since the end of the tie should fall within the range of your belt buckle (not above and not below) just add your knot length measurement to the length of your tie, below your belt buckle.

So when you start to tie your tie, the wide end will be hanging below your belt buckle, the exact length of your knot!

Still confused? It may help to hold this answer up to a mirror!

How should care for my dress shirts?

Q: Do you have any suggestion on how to care for my dress shirts? I have some that have perspiration stains too.

The best way to take care of your shirts is to launder and iron them yourself! Come on, ironing can be very therapeutic and even if you send your shirts to a laundry you have to touch-up iron them.

If that isn’t convenient the next best thing is a professional laundry. Go easy on the starch which tends to damage fibers over time. “No” or “light” starch is preferable.

Cleaning after each wearing helps keep stains from setting into the fabric. If you do get perspiration stains point them out to your laundry. If you wash at home, soak fresh stains with ammonia, or older stains in vinegar for at least 30 minutes before washing.

Use the hottest water safe for the fabric, and it doesn’t hurt to add liquid detergent or stain remover directly on the stain, five to ten minutes before the wash.

If the shirts don’t come clean, take them out of rotation for business wear. Your career is more important than the false economy of getting more wear out of a stained shirt.

If you’re doing your own laundry, don’t leave your shirts in the dryer too long. Wrinkles hang out better if you hang shirts up slightly damp and they are easier to iron.

Should socks match my shoes or pants?

Socks should match the color of your trousers. They can be slightly darker. This gives an uninterrupted visual line from your waist to your shoes.

Otherwise, an observer’s eye stops at your ankle; not an area we necessarily want to emphasize.  You can use a secondary color in the sock (patterns, etc.) to match a tie, pocket square or shirt color.

What color shoes do I wear with which color trousers?

With Gray trousers, shoes can be Black (conservative), dark Brown (sophisticated), or cordovan.

Cap toe shoe: Cordovan

When you wear Navy, shoes can be black, dark brown or cordovan.

With Tan and Olive, shoes can be all shades of brown or cordovan.

Wearing Black trousers? Shoes can be black or cordovan.

Cordovan, (reddish-brown is also called Oxblood, or Burgundy if it’s not Cordovan Leather) can be worn with most suit colors!