Well Suited

A few days ago on my FB feed, my gentleman acquaintances were discussing this article.  Do you agree or disagree with its many pronouncements?  Heaven knows that today would be a great day for a tweed suit with a vest.   As would many of the days this past month.

The more-formal approach: Double button, notched lapel. And saddlestitching!


Not that it’s surprising that this image of a formally-, but also dashingly-dressed man happens to be Matt Bomer, in his role as Neil Caffrey (a con man gone with the Law) on the TV show “White Collar”.



Huffington Post’s version of the Do’s & Don’ts begins with the 15 things our reporter keeps seeing but would prefer not to.

Huffington Post feels this guy is wearing too much blingy "style over substance" here...
Huffington Post feels this guy is wearing too much blingy “style over substance” here…


Which is ironic, since this kind of bling is a cultural subversion of the conservative stereotypes of suit-wearers (who are frequently white and conservative) in the trash.  Bet that writer is over 40 and white!



And then this huge, hopefully comprehensive guide…


suits_elegance_2_4_evssIt makes perfect sense that a menswear magazine like Details should include this kind of how to.  It’s the most helpful of the lot, I think, including as it does the arrows with individual descriptions:

Rule #2
Some think button-down collars are for casual wear only, but they can work great with dressier looks as well.

Rule #3
Polka dots are a great way to bring energy to a suit. Make sure they’re big enough to be recognizable, but not so large that they’re goofy.

Rule #4
A tried-and-true pattern like herringbone or glen plaid in a muted shade makes an impression without crossing into the realm of garishness.

And even the sales pitch, so that you, the newly-educated young-man-on-the-rise can dress this well.  Some year:
Above: Suit ($3,595) by Isaia. Shirt ($550) by Kiton. Tie ($150) by Alfred Dunhill. Belt ($295) by Ermenegildo Zegna. Shoes ($660) by Church’s.

It’s especially nice that this article was actually written with the consultation of six bespoke tailors.

And I found at least 6 or 7 other articles, of which these are but a few…




What’s going on here?  Do men even still *wear* suits these days, other than ironically??  If so, why do they need so much advice on how to wear them?  Or is it that bloggers have the space to write and book contractors are giving money to menswear projects?  Are people reading these blogs and buying these books?   Here are a few recent publications we have at FIT library that seem fascinated with this “new” old form of elegance:

I am Dandy : the Return of the Elegant Gentleman

4th fl.  Art Reference GT6720 .A33 2013

dandy cover


While I love the diversity and colorful aspects of these men, I wonder how many of them function in America’s mainstream?  Or live west of the Delaware?  Or east of the San Andreas fault?  Or am I missing some important trend in American menswear (not being one, afterall).



Artist, Rebel, Dandy: Men of Fashion

Art Reference GT6720 .I78 2013


This book highlights many of the same gentlemen seen in the above book, but also includes carefully photographed pieces of clothing that have been worn by exquisite gentlemen of the past.  This is one of a pair of spats.





Vintage menswear : a collection from the Vintage Showroom

4th fl.  Art Reference GT1710 .G85 2012

This one is so gorgeously photographed that I wanted to become suddenly a WWII vet, so I could have aged leather bomber jackets.

Fuck Yeah Menswear : bespoke knowledge for the crispy gentleman

5th fl.  Main Stacks TT617 .F83 2012

This last appears to be a book form of some highlights from this quite outspoken blog (warning, it isn’t a polite place, even though it’s elegant):


Where is all of this interest in menswear coming from?  What is it a reaction to?  Have men gotten tired of the slouch of Abercrombie, or does that inform this?  Is it that men have embraced the DIY movement by finally doing their own shopping?  Or embracing the vintage looks parallel to those of their hipster girlfriends?  Or is this new dandyism a reflection of the joy of formalwear and the flowering of gay culture that has sprouted from the recent legalization of gay marriage in so many states?  I’m curious as to your takes on this.  And, as you’ve seen, gorgeous tailoring is a topic I return to over and over again.







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New Year, New Beginnings!

Since several folks I know got married this past week, it seems apt to begin the new year with hopeful thoughts of love.

This florist is making a beautiful, yet unconventional, winter bouquet:


And this young woman is an FIT student in the Interior Design program.  She used to be a student aide in the PERS department.   Congratulations to Leah Levitt & Milton Arellano!


And happy anniversary to all the rest of you who’ve gotten married the week of New Years in years past!

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Love, Loss, & Auld Lang Syne

At FIT, we spend a lot of time pondering the business and the art of dress.  But there are so many more stories that clothes can tell.  If every dress or pair of pants or skirt could talk, imagine the stories they’d tell.  From the depths of December, we offer you some remembrances of summers past, illustrated in clothes and accessories.

This past few years have been tough for the old women in my family.  Three women, my grandmother, my great aunt and my ex-mother-in-law, all in their late 90s, finally passed on.  So I’ve spent parts of this last couple years sorting through their clothes and pictures and other belongings.  And finding out a lot more about these women at their youngest, prettiest and most fashionable.  What do these things express about these women?  Hope?  A sense of their own desirability?  Social status?  Pleasure?  Love?  Financial independence?  The kinds of activities they enjoyed?

My Great Aunt Emilie (second from the left in the pic above) was first generation American, born to a father and mother (fourth and fifth from the left in the pic above) who’d moved from Poland in about 1909.  Never married, she lived in the same home in Philadelphia for 56 years.  When we cleaned it out (a very sad task), we found many many shoes, golf clothes (she was an avid golfer well into her 80s), Christmas cards from 30 years, slips, gloves and beautiful, splendid hats!  And many many boxes of good jewelry, including dinner rings, dressy pins, and strings of pearls.  To me these tell a story of a stubborn woman who lived an unconventional life (she never married) who took good care of herself (she golfed weekly, owned her own home, and left comfortable allowances to charities in her will), but allowed herself many pleasures due to her financial independence.

These hats were all still carefully wrapped in tissue, and kept in their Bergdorf Goodman boxes:


I was surprised how much our assumptions about the necessities of dress have changed.  When was the last time you wore a hat to any occasion? She had all kinds:  these two spring floral confections were popular in the early 60s.




This lovely black beaded number was custom made by a Philadelphia milliner, and closely resembles one from a late-50s Dior photograph.




This plasticized-straw boater has a tall enough crown that it looks later 60s.  With a patent-leather band, it is perfect for summer outings at the golf club, where Emilie was the center of a lively circle of friends.


Have you ever worn a slip?  Or gloves?  Aunt Emilie had many of all of these, never thrown away.  The white gloves are very proper, but each has an embroidered or cutwork detail.  The two outside pairs are knit, but the center glove is fine kid leather.  And howabout the sauciness of the yellow pair?

I especially love that she had this hot pink lacy slip.  I doubt anyone else ever saw it, but that’s the point, isn’t it.  My very proper maiden great aunt wore these pretty things to please herself.

In a letter we found, toasting her at her retirement dinner, both her determination, her signature items of jewelry,  and her fondness for travel were each mentioned gleefully.


Last June I spent time going through the wardrobe of my former mother-in-law, Rena Mae.  Daughter of an Arkansas circuit minister, she married a dashing Army pilot who was stationed in her town during World War II.  Richard brought her back to his hometown of New York, and they lived comfortably in a large home in Melba, Queens.  They had two children.  Rena Mae was a school teacher for many years, but she also had the luxury of funds offered by a husband with some financial skills.  Amongst the many ladylike daywear pieces were a few delicate  evening and cocktail dresses from days gone by.  She also had dresses from nearly every decade in summery ginghams and eyelets.

And these:








Rena Mae also had a few skirts similar to this Vogue Pattern from 1975 (we have the Pattern Catalogs at the PERS desk).  She may even have made one from this pattern or one like it.  Every woman I knew in the 1970s sewed, and my mother made most of their own clothes and a lot of mine and my brother’s.  I know my mom made a skirt like this.  I wore it when I was in high school.

Looking through these clothes brought back memories of summer vacations when I was a kid.





My grandmother Georgia was also a southern lady.  She grew up in the old south, on a large cotton farm in Wisner, Lousiana.   She remembered traveling by horse-and-buggies.  Once she graduated from the University of New Mexico, she and a friend moved to Chicago on a lark.  There she taught public school and eventually married my grandfather, Dan, a handsome, witty Irish-American who worked for the water department.  Together they raised two families: they had two sons, Danny and Neil.  She also inherited Dan’s part-time family from his first marriage, my father and my aunt, handling the brood with grace and patience at a time when divorce was still scandalous.   They traveled cross country several times a year in order to keep in touch with family members in California, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Montana.  She embroidered and quilted, giving each grandchild a quilt she’d made.  As email became popular, she became an avid user in order to stay close to her far-flung family.  She was 99.

Clothing seems to be firmly attached to the idea of memories, especially for women.  The library has a number of books that use clothing as a framework for memoirs.

A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s album of styles and fabrics, edited by Naomi Tarrant.  5th Floor Main & 4th Floor Art Reference, GT736 .L25.

Fabric of society : a century of people and their clothes, 1770-1870 : essays inspired by the collections at Platt Hall, the Gallery of English Costume, Manchester, by Jane Tozer and Sarah Levitt.  5th Floor Main & 4th Floor Art Reference, GT736 .T69

Shocked: My Mother, Schiapiarelli, and Me, by Patricia Volk.  5th Floor Main  TT505 .S3 V65

Beaton: The Art of the Scrapbook, by Cecil Beaton, introduced by James Danziger.  4th Floor Art Reference, TR 140 .B4 A255

Love, Loss and What I Wore, by Ilene Beckerman.   GT617.N4 B43 1995

Pretty in Plaid: A Life, a Witch and a Wardrobe, by Jen Lancaster.  5th Floor Main PS3612 .A54748


In loving memory of

Emily M. Osinski 1913-2011,

Rena Mae Krevor 1917-2011, &

Georgia Knotts McMahon 1913-2013

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Knit for Victory (over the cold)

Ok, so this site combines several of my favorite things:  Museum archives, old patterns, and the “new” knitting craze.  I can’t resist sharing it:


And interesting that what on our side of the pond is called a “ski mask” on the Brit side is called a “Balaclava”, after the war in the Crimea, when British soldiers didn’t have warm enough gear.

Stay warm on this frosty weekend!



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Needles in the Stacks, with Beth & Denise

Welcome back to another episode of Beth & Denise’s reviews of needle-oriented books in our stacks!  With the holidays ahead, it seems a good time to continue our series reviewing the how-to manuals collected in the library.  What’s on your Christmas list?


Encyclopedia of Sewing Machine Techniques, by Nancy Bednar and JoAnn Pugh-Gannon

4th Floor Art Reference and 5th Floor Main Stacks TT713 .B39 2007

This book is exactly what the title says it is.  It contains lots of unusual stitches and creative applications for a home sewing machine, beginning with explanations of different kinds of thread, needles, and kinds of feet.  It is not a “Here’s How to Sew” manual, though.  The idea is to take specialized machine feet and use them to apply different embellishments.  These techniques would be most helpful for people working with children’s clothing or quilting, since many deal with applique and embroidery detail work.  Many books like this come with really cheesy or outdated projects in the back, but these are still pretty relevant, even if rather casual.  We really recommended this book for machine whizzes or people who want to be.


The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff

5th Floor Main Stacks  TT705 .W54  1996 

This isn’t so much a book of sewing techniques as much as a challenge to the designer/reader to think about fabric in new ways.  It is organized by type of manipulation (e.g. tucks, gathers, smocking) and has great images of variations on these themes.  These are followed by black and white images demonstrating the techniques.

This is a book that would be most interesting to someone with a bit of a texture fetish.  The specialized fabric effects shown here suggest mostly couture applications.

The disappointing things with this book are that all the images are black and white, and all the demonstrations are drawings.  I suspect this lack of rich visuals is a product of publishing standards in the late-1990s.  The pictorial quality of many how-to books published in the last ten years has escalated dramatically (the result of new global production sourcing methods, perhaps?).  While this book should be a lot more visually sumptuous than it is, it’s still an inspiration for people who love working with cloth.


Singer: The Complete Photo Guide to Sewing, by Creative Publishing International

5th Floor Main Stacks TT 713 .C63 2005   

This is the Singer machine company’s version of The Basic Sewing Guide.  (We already reviewed the Reader’s Digest & Vogue versions, remember?)  This version has a lot of things to recommend it.  It covers basic machine construction techniques for standard garments, including knitwear, as well as some simple home decorating projects (that haven’t gone out of date yet).  The step-by-step instructions seem clear but concise.  This book stands out due to the quantity and attractiveness of the projects, which are basic enough to not get dated as quickly as those in other books; and the clarity  of the photographs which accompany the instructions.  While Denise is upset that the zipper section doesn’t include invisible zippers, as recent as this book is,  Beth really likes the attention paid to how to sew different types of fabrics.

The other standout of this book is the excellent (and rare)  attention paid to sewing machine and serger maintenance.  This book has great photos of stitch problems from both types and what causes them.  It’s not as detailed as the Gale Grigg Hazen (see next review), but it’s a good, clear beginning to working with one’s machine.


Owner’s Guide to Sewing Machines, Sergers, and Knitting Machines, by Gail Grigg Hazen

5th Floor Main Stacks TT713 .H38 1989

This book is a rare and valuable one.   Unlike most of the books I have (and will) look at, this one focuses on basic machine care for the tools we use.

This nifty book actually walks the user through the basic mechanical steps that our sewing machines, sergers, and knitting machines use in order to creates a series of functional stitches.  Better still, the book has diagrams and instructions for oiling and adjusting the moving components of the machines as described, thus saving me, theoretically, from spending the $$ I end up spending every time my machine goes out of time.  Which is nearly always right in the middle of one of my annual sewing sprees.   This book gives me the key to Figure It All Out and Do It Myself!  But no, I don’t own a knitting machine, so that part doesn’t help me.  But otherwise, I think we each need a copy.  Good Christmas gift ideas… Hmm!


Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers, by Julie Cole and Sharon Czachor

4th Floor Art Reference and 5th Floor Main Stacks  TT 705 .C65  2009

We have been looking at a lot of different sewing technique books, each with a different focus.  This one attempts to provide a ready reference of professional (machine-driven) construction techniques for people interpreting their own designs into cloth.  The book’s strengths include a chapter on stabilizing fabrics to align the weight of your fabric to its end use; detailed descriptions of many kinds of interfacings, facings and edge finishes.  It breaks down a garment by section: skirt, bodice, sleeve, pants-crotch, closures, thus helping a designer think through the steps in creating a finished garment.  It isn’t a basic sewing book, though, and the how-to is all done with drawings, not photographs.   Consequently,  we think this book might be a good companion for the Reader’s Digest Guide, once the designer has decided to create garments on his or her own, but probably shouldn’t stand alone on anyone’s shelf.  A lot of the techniques are more advanced (machine-centric) construction techniques of the sort seen in Garment-Center production sewing, not the more exacting hand-techniques of couture.


Dressmaker’s Handbook, by Rene Bergh

5th Floor Main Stacks  TT515 .B453 1998

This book contains a series of basic garment construction techniques, from the supplies list and description to the pattern corrections for the basics (pants, skirts, blouses) to finishing techniques for tailored ready to wear.  The author assumes that the maker will purchase a pattern, then use it to produce a well-made, even “couture” or fancily-finished garment.  The book attempts to illustrate garments constructed with both knits and crisp shirtings and suitings, which are very different conceptually.

Techniques are demonstrated in attractive watercolor illustrations, some of these seem a bit ambiguous. The techniques listed here are included in many other, better-presented and more-complete books (many of which we own), and this book in general is of less use to an FIT student, who presumably would be making his or her *own* patterns, than a home sewer or beginner out in the rest of the sewing world.

The rest of the books we’ll review today are focused on serging or overlock machines.


Sewing with Sergers, The Complete Handbook for Overlock Sewing, by Pati Palmer and Gail Brown (3rd edition)

4th Floor Art Reference  TT713 .B76 2004

This is a smaller format book, created with black and white drawings.  Sad to say, Denise and I find the book less helpful just because of that, despite the fact that the use of illustrations (instead of photographs) probably lowered the cost of the book.  It has a good section on machine features one can purchase and what they do.  And the instructions for maintaining the machine are excellent.  The book also presents lots of potential uses for serging, both to create new garments and to revise and update old ones.  But it is still difficult to understand the step-by-step construction as illustrated.  We wish they’d spent a little more money and used photos instead.


Singer: Sewing with an Overlock, by Cy DeCosse Inc., Singer

5th Floor Main Stacks  TT713 .S385 1989

This slim paperback volume uses photos to illustrate step by step instructions for using one’s overlock machine.  The book contains directions for pockets, collars, pants, seam finishes, dresses, hems, as well as a lot of info for working with knits.

This book depicts methods completely different from the sort of retro-centric couture-oriented fine finishing methods taught at FIT.  One section suggests a basting glue to hold a pocket together while stitching, a description which made Denise and I shudder!  Come to think of it, the FIT Way doesn’t espouse much of serger stitching at all, other than fine merrow-edged hems here and there.  Still, the overlock is the industry’s standard seam finish, and this book does a good job of teaching the machine’s use in basic garment construction.  The most valuable part of this book (speaking as a babylock owner) is the detailed listing given to troubleshooting and adjusting the threading,  tension and stitch easing using this machine.  This is important because these aspects are very different from working with normal home-sewing machines.


The Ultimate Serger Answer Guide, by Naomi Baker, Gail Brown, and Cindy Kacynski

5th Floor Main Stacks  TT713 .B335 1996 (Revised in 2011)

This book is not a serger how-to.  It is, instead, a troubleshooting guide to a complicated piece of machinery.  While many of the illustrations of problems are drawn, it combines photographs and detailed drawings to make the solutions pretty clear.  It seems incredibly thorough, addressing every part of the machine, and including photographs of the wrong vs. the correct final seam.  The other interesting info is that it includes detailed listings of the manufacturers that make sergers and the models they make, and the particulars of the care each type needs.  And a glossary of parts and terms.

I can come up with my own projects (which so many of the other books come with), but it’s difficult to find a machinery manual that works through problems for the non-technical consumer.  I think this makes this book especially valuable if one owns a serger.  Think of how helpful it would be to have a manual around for next time one’s serger coughs at one’s workpile!


The Complete Serger Handbook, by Chris James

4th Floor Art Reference  TT713 .J36 1997

This book begins with a detailed look at the variations in consumer machines and the range of parts available for them, and the tools useful to use with them.  The next detailed section examines the wealth of threads available for use with them, and the pros & cons of each.  It applies the same level of detail to the possible stitches, rethreading these difficult machines, and a combination of both basic stitches and more decorative advanced applications.

These are each useful features, and make this book highly recommended for it’s clarity and breadth of detail.  However, our real problem with this book is that both Denise and I are FIT-trained and we would just never ever serge a hem.  Or serge a seam.  The garment wouldn’t, in our minds, be well-made enough.

When one buys a new machine, one tends to want to thread and go.  The level of detail in this one is probably too cumbersome, and that’s why we think it probably went out of print.  Still, if one has a serger and uses it, we recommend this book.


 Simply Serge Any Fabric, by Naomi Baker and Tammy Young

5th Floor Main Stacks TT713 .B333 1990

Just to prove that every personal rule has an exception, this book, which is completely illustrated with drawings, that I feel actually conveys the most detail about the kind of sewing that sergers work best for.

Despite mine and Denise’s bias against serging as a construction tool, I have to admit that I like this book’s dynamic illustrations.  They walk one clearly through the easiest construction order for various cut-and-sew garments using this complicated piece of machinery.  This book contains less of the problem-stitch-troubleshooting contained in some of the others, and focuses instead on the types of fabrics that lend themselves well to this type of construction.  It offers descriptions of techniques for using a variety of fabrics, from suede to lace to lycra swimwear goods.  And it includes helpful tips for problem solving and streamlining one’s work.  And, of course, this book is completely out of print and impossible to find.  Except at the Gladys Marcus Library at FIT!

Happy holiday sewing, everyone!








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