Spring is in the air! How can I tell? Because it’s that time of year when every men’s fashion mag tarts up a special edition with some glossy photos and trots out their version of a style manual. They all call it different things: GQ’s Style Bible, Esquire’s Black Book, Sharp’s Manual. I’m not going to blame them. After all, they need to make some revenue, and nothing makes an account executive’s mouth water like a special edition that can be packed with advertisements right when it’s time to push the new collections.
Here’s the thing though: People have been reading the Bible for thousands of years, and we all know that none of these manuals are going to have that sort of longevity, right? No, of course not, because otherwise you wouldn’t need to buy the one that comes out next year!
So if it doesn’t bother me that they are making a huge buck off of these things, I guess it has to be the fact that they generally claim to be “manuals” or “bibles” when they contain barely enough text to fill the back of a postcard with (in all fairness, Esquire does put on more of a show). I should know; I’ve bought each and every single one of them.
See, the allure of the style manual is strong for men’s fashion fanatics, and we can’t help ourselves but buy the next one no matter how bad they have all been (I finally broke this habit at the sight of Sharp’s laughable Autumn/Winter edition.
Now, I’m posting this in anticipation of GQs so-called “Style Bible” to arrive this April and, to be fair, I haven’t seen it yet. However based on their last attempt. a pamphlet sized affair that cost me $15 and mostly contained reused photos from previous issues, I’m not holding my breath.
So what’s a bloke to do when he’s looking for something with more substance? A real “style bible”? Well, the closest thing I’ve ever come across (and I have looked long and hard), would have to be Andy Gilchrist’s Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes complemented by the Esquire “Handbook of Style”. They aren’t going to teach you the ins and outs of the latest fashion trends, but they give the greatest foundation to traditional men’s clothing that I think any man could hope for without having to do any real work, so go check them out.
As for this upcoming GQ Style Bible? Well, don’t worry, I’ll have a look for all of you as soon as I can to let you know if it’s worth your time or not. I’m not trying to do you a favour or anything. I just can’t help myself.
When Andrew Muller, founder of Vivarati asked me to have a look at his socks, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A gift set arrived an impressively short time later (only a few days across the border and from coast to coast) and I was intrigued by the excellent packing and hand-signed note that he provided for me. Opening the gift set revealed four picks from the collection.
Packaging aside, designer socks are a matter of style and construction first and foremost and, in terms of style, the socks certainly make a statement. Bold designs for business mean Vivarati socks will likely appeal to many young professionals who read the pages of fashion magazines like GQ and are looking for ways to punch up their look. Muller clearly knows his audience, as he is cut from the same cloth, having spent years working for a large financial firm in New York. However, Muller faces tough competition in this category from the likes of Thomas Pink, Richard James, Paul Smith and Duchamp on the high end, and Happy Socks, Corgi and others on the low end. In the pairs that I tried the style of the socks is top notch, competing with the best of them. I have a very large sock collection and I found the Vivarati socks to find their own fit in the collection, offering simple, vibrant patterns that are uncluttered; comparable to my Duchamp socks, but a few bucks cheaper. After several wearings, I am particularly fond of The Rollover.
Although I do like the style of the socks, I am constantly annoyed by the small Vivarati symbol that is stitched into each sock. I recognize the importance of branding, but I’ve always disliked the use of a marque on the ankle. It reminds me of cheap department store socks or, worse yet, Hugo Boss socks (which I am surprised do not come with a BOSS T-Shirt you must wear by contract to increase brand awareness). However, I am glad that Muller has had the marque moved on some socks avoid interrupting the design, and I admire the attention to detail. To be fair, I don’t have a branding solution to that problem. Some of my other socks have their brands printed on the toe, but I think I’d prefer to see the designs speak for themselves, with no branding at all, as with some of my other pairs of socks. If I like the socks enough, I won’t suddenly forget who made them, and anyone who insisted on seeing the top of my ankle to identify which brand of socks I was wearing would annoy me far more than the marque.
In terms of comfort, I am very pleased with the Vivarati socks. They are the perfect thickness (frequently a complaint of my other socks), and after wearing them over several long work days in a variety of shoes, my feet did not feel overly sweaty at any point (sweaty feet being a sure-fire sign of shitty socks). They are made from cotton, nylon and elastene with a hand-linked toe, fairly standard for their price point, and well-constructed. Time will tell how well they last but after one wash, following the basic instructions, they are thus far unscathed.
Overall, I think that Vivarati socks are a good purchase if you like to wear bold socks as I do. They come in a little less expensive than comparable brands, and the designs are perfect for an office wardrobe filled with slim suits and splashes of colour, although a man with a larger socks collection may find the designs too simple. While the selection is a bit on the limited side right now, I’m sure that Muller will be expanding it as he grows the business. If you’re looking to pick some up, I’d recommend the gift set. The price is great, getting you one pair practically free, and it gives you a chance to check out an assortment. I especially appreciate the free shipping both ways, as many retailers are catching on, even if it doesn’t apply to non-Americans such as myself.
As always, thanks for reading, and look for my next article in the Building Style from the Ground Up series coming early next week.
For all that I love style, something troubles me about the general way in which so many people on the internet approach and consume clothing. There is this emphasis put on being “in fashion” or being “on trend”, and while it is likely a machination of the powerful companies that persist by propelling fashion forward, it forms a negative attribute ascribed to so many who have an interest in clothing as a form of expression, making fashion appear trifling. The emphasis is not put so much on the artistry of constructing fashion, but of what is “new”, what is “exclusive”, what makes the person who owns it “special”. In many ways I suppose that this make fashion a lot like music. People are constantly grappling and clamouring to lay claim to being the first to discover something or, in this case, to start wearing something. People want to not just keep up with the Joneses, but to constantly trump them and state that they “were here first”. Perhaps this is what so persistantly troubles me about the idea of fashion.
While I find the shows to be magnificent, I am haunted by the fact that this will mean so many people will buy into the newest product on the line, their old clothes will be disposed of, all in the name of wearing the hottest, latest trend while claiming that they are discovering themselves (coincidentally the clothes that express who they think they are happens to appear on the shelves just in time thanks to expert trend-tracking and well-positioned marketing.
All of this contributes to the perception that fashion, and clothing in general, is such a trivial thing. Buy it one year, discard the next, and yet this cycle has very real conesquences in the real materials from which fashion is made. Unlike music, you cannot simply move onto the next band and move your old songs further down your itunes playlist only to be discovered later: the clothing must be manufactured from raw goods, which must be farmed to feed the hungry maw of our increasingly consumptive culture.
This is not to say that I am some raging environmentalist, for I am not, but it troubles me that all that I love about clothing is ignored by these masses of buyers, lost in the trends as their search for happiness takes the form of whatever is on the runway. Nor am I going to cling to tradition for the mere sake of thing as so many of the older style enthusiasts that I see online, espousing the pure quality of Canali or Ermenegildo Zegna ad nauseum.
Simply put, I am disappointed to see the real power that personal style can have in a person’s life reduced to a series of garments to be released every few months in the latest. H&M + Whoever collaboration/shit show. The triumph of “fast fashion” only compounds the problem. How can one find oneself among the excess? How can one develop style when the urge is to constantly be in the latest garments? Frankly, the business disgusts me. The term fast fashion disgusts me. While I, as much as anyone, is interested in the artistry that goes into creating a truly novel garment, I am saddened that such industry thrives around making as many varieties of knockoff fashion as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Too many have given up the beauty of personal style for the endorphin rush of the latest thing, like the lab rat who starves to death hitting the orgasm button.
I realize this will not change, not anytime soon at least. The cat is out of the bag, and too busy making $300 billion a year to give a shit. However, much like the credit crunch I think that this consumptive behaviour will, too, hit a constriction. Fashion may be fast, but it is made up of very real materials that have to come from somewhere, and the environmental impact is very real.
All I ask you to consider when purchasing each new item is whether that item really builds on your style. Take the time to develop this personal style, whichever way works. Have a look at my developing series on building style from the ground up if it helps, or just check out as many blogs as possible until you develop that keen taste for what works. In this day and age there are so many images of style available on the internet that you can develop that sense without looking like you’ve been simply dressed by the internet.
If anyone has any great links on developing personal style, please share them with me in the comments and I’ll collect them together somewhere for everyone to use.