Thinking Outside the Beltology

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Belts can be the bane of your existence or a signature style element of your daily wardrobe. It all comes down to fit and too often that fit is exactly, just not right. Either too loose or too tight, the traditional belt design based on pre-punched holes can be quite limiting.

Beltology_PackagingEnter Beltology. These clever and stylish belts are build upon the functional foundations of classic woven leather and preppy ribbon belts. They take features inherent to each – minute adjustability and easy expandability – and combine them in something new and interesting.

These pants-holder-uppers are both fun and practical, making Beltology belts a great choice for everyday casual and office casual wear. The basic design of the belts is neutral and timeless, allowing them to fit in well with many wardrobes. And, their variety of material options and ease of fit make them a natural first choice for most everyday needs outside of a jacket and tie.

The hallmark of Beltology belts is of course their stretchability. Each belt is crafted from a flexible, densely woven webbing of waxed cotton, leather, rayon, or polyester. We tried out several version that reflect each of these materials and were impressed not only by the solid construction, very important for accessories like belts, but also the quality of the materials. Each belt we examined was sturdy and flexible, well finished, and well proportioned.

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The core of every strand making up the belt is a strong elastic material that allows it to stretch up to two-to-three inches and return to its original length. The prong simply passes through the belt wherever it feels most comfortable.

We did note that due to the firmness of the belt’s webbing, too much of a stretch with too short a belt resulted in a snug fit that was sometimes uncomfortable. So, just order the next size up if you think it may be a possible issue for you. This strategy is especially helpful for guys who prefer a looser, more relaxed fit; just get a longer belt.

This is very much a local project; all Beltology belts are made in New York City. The belt buckles are constructed from a heavyweight alloy that comes brushed or polished, depending on belt style.  All the trim is full-grain leather. One of things we really like about Beltology is the wide-ranging collection of styles, patterns, and materials. All have the signature red keeper loop lining; a subtle but clever branding touch. And, for a mere US$55.00 to $65.00, that’s a pretty good deal.

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OTC Recommends: Christensen Bags

Christensen No13_1Most lifestyle brands seek to improve upon a time-tested design or known functionality; a better shirt, hipper jeans, or a cooler laptop case. Christensen Bags, the brainchild of a creative husband and wife team, took a path less traveled and we think it’s made all the difference.

Rather than mimic something obviously traditional, these mid-century inspired bags and folios are unique, well designed, and irresistibly useful. They stand out from the portage crowd for all the right reasons.

Christensen bags are a third space when it comes to holding things. Crafted from a dense twill waxed cotton canvas, they are minimalist and sturdy – built for the work of carrying. While masculine in overall form, the brand’s carryalls and satchels evoke a clean lined, artistic aesthetic that make them perfectly appropriate for men or women. At at the same time, the purposeful materials and robust construction call to mind something you would expect to find in the field or in the hands of an architect at a construction site.

More so than any other bags we have tested, Christensen’s perfectly straddle the line between form and function. Tough yet refined, rugged but clean, pragmatically functional and aesthetically compelling. These bags work equally well hauling papers to the office or hauling tools.

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The carryall line in particular exemplifies this dual personality. Depending on how you use the bag, its functionally minimalist design naturally adapts to the chores and at hand. We have used a No. 28 Olive Carryall at a suit-and-tie conference and for porting sports equipment; it blended into each environment with notable ease.

Our No. 13 Platypus Satchel has become a go-to everyday errand bag. It’s the perfect size; compact but just roomy enough to carry the essentials with space to spare. The design is casually cool and can work with shorts and a polo shirt or with smart office wear. As with the carryalls, a simple panel of pockets and leather pen loops keep smaller items at bay, while the large, open interiors hold more than you might expect.

Construction-wise, the bags are actually double-thick due to the black cotton canvas lining used in all Christensen bags. The carryalls have thick leather bottoms and handles, and an equally sturdy detachable shoulder strap. We are still enamored with the No’ 28’s clever leather wrap handle closure.

The unique tab and stud closure on the No. 13 is also part of its appeal. Distinctive and practical, it is a design element for sure, but also keeps thing well-contained.

Overall, these bags continue to engage our creative side and keep us looking for reasons to put them to use. The company’s stated inspiration of Danish mid-century modern esthetics carries through all its products and underlies their ability to always look like the right choice.

It comes as no surprise that we highly recommend Christensen Bags.

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The Case for a Classic Briefcase

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In today’s world, men carry bags. Be they messenger or backpack, leather or nylon or canvas, formal or casual, we need a good bag. For many of us, a daily commute – even a quick errand – can necessitate a wallet, keys, smart phone, sunglasses, notebook and pen, not to mention innumerable personal knickknacks and talismans.

OTC has had a long running love affair with bags and thinking about the best way to carry the stuff of life. Your bag, and we have need for different types at different times, says something about you, your sense of style and personality, your value of design or craftsmanship, and your thoughts on form and function.

Louis Vuitton Attache CaseTo that end, we propose that you consider – or reconsider – the classic, hard-sided lid over box briefcase. For some this object is the height of old-fashionedness, while others see it as a classic case that carries with it eminent practicality and intellectual masculine swagger. While the briefcase, or attache, is in some ways a visual byword for the era of men in grey flannel suits, it still has the power to impart purpose and purposefulness to your kit.

So, with the burgeoning appreciation for all things classic, heritage, and hand-crafted, let’s take another look on your dad’s (or grand-dad’s) briefcase.

The first thing to understand about a hard-sided briefcase is that using one is commitment. You are making a statement in terms of your style and also in accepting that this isn’t an informal bag you can sling over your shoulder. You quite literally carry it around with you. There is a formality to the briefcase that will set you apart from others and you need to be OK with that. Yet, in today’s world such a stylistic positioning of self is not a bad thing – in some ways it’s sort of liberating.

While technology and the cloud allow for greater mobility and flexibility, the need to have our stuff at hand, since we are so often “on” even when away from the office, requires a mobile office beyond a mere iPhone 6 Plus. If you have need for files and papers, a tablet, your legal pad, pens and the other material of office life, being able to sort and organize your “carrying space” (as one reader dubs it) is more important than ever.

More than other bags, a box briefcase is your portable office and your mobile command center that holds its shape and creates a sense of grounding and place where ever you happen to be. Depending on the size ans style of your briefcase, the commuting convenience factor may certainly be impacted. A leather Frank Clegg messenger bag is of course more convenient on a crowded train. However, a slim Swaine Adeney Brigg briefcase is by no means a heavy lift.

You can find briefcases and attaches in varying sizes and price points. As with any other such investment, try and buy the best quality and construction you can afford. Some have wooden frames, some steel; regardless each element of construction should work towards the goal of a sturdy and balanced lifelong companion. When it comes to filling your briefcase, two factors quickly come into play; weight and capacity.

SwaineAdeneyBrigg_SAB2_MedHandStitchedLidOverBodyAttache_1bBy its nature, a box briefcase is heavier than other bags. and, its structured body does not really allow much flexibility when loading it up for the commute. Therefore, an ability to curate your daily needs is important. Also, the ability to organize and sort, if not inherent should be developed. The size, layout, and capacity of your briefcase comes into play at this point. Slim is elegant and refined but limiting. A large or expandable case (truth be told, we really don’t like the expanding type) allows for more stuff but that also increases size and weight.

We have been testing out the Buroni briefcase from Maxwell Scott (shown at top and below), a British brand. Handmade in Italy on a wooden frame, this box brief is a beautiful and solid example of a classic attache bag.

While it may be slightly larger than some prefer, we appreciate its deep box and snap-out blotter/divider that both keeps items separated and doubles as a firm writing surface. Our review finds it to be a great example of what a briefcase can be, with leather reinforced corners, bound edges, and discreet brass feet. It is a case that’s meant to be used in everyday real life, and that’s what we like to see.

Inside, a roomy light leather lined interior is separated from the well-designed top organization panel and file pockets by the aforementioned blotter. Two sturdy combination locks keep our contents safe.

As with any well crafted briefcase, part of the enjoyment in carrying it is appreciating the craftsmanship and detail that go into these unique and intensely personal objects. There is a reason that for more than 100 years, the British budget is still officially transported from Number 10 to the House of Commons via that little red briefcase.

The choice to carry a hard sided briefcase is personal, for some it will never be a good fit. For others, it’s a meaningful ritual that blend heritage with modern life, and form with function. If nothing else, add one to your bag rotation and make a point of using it. Maybe not every day, but sometimes it’s the perfect fit.

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Sebastian Ward: It’s The Shirt

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There are a lot of shirt brands out there these days. And for the most part, that’s a good thing. Depending on your needs and budget, you can get bespoke, made-to-measure, or off the rack. Dress shirts now come in all manner of pattern, color, style, and fit. Indeed, you can pretty much customize and tweak just about every feature to make it just right for just you.

Not all shirts are made equal, however, and there are times when we just want a great shirt that doesn’t require too much thought.

Features like excellent construction, a good fit, and a design that blends classic shirting qualities with a fresh outlooks are hallmarks of a great “go-to” shirt. It’s the shirt that you want to wear, fits right, and somehow makes you feel especially put together. Often, the best ones are from a brand that does just shirts, is obsessed with shirts, and understands how a great shirt is the foundation of a great wardrobe.

We found that shirt, and its made by Sebastian Ward. Need some context? Think Gianni Agnelli meets Jay Gatsby.

Sebastian Ward makes a thoroughly modern shirt based on design philosophies of the 1920s sprinkled with some Victorian panache. Elements like high arm holes and a fuller cut body with back darting allow the shirt to naturally conform to your body. The longer hem and arms, ending in snug barrel cuffs, guarantee that your shirt stays tucked in place, even when moving around and stretching. While not particularly avante garde, you simply do not see this kind of detail, design, and quality in any other OTR shirt.

If Sebastian Ward shirts have a stand-out feature that makes them easily, and quickly, recognizable, it would be the collar. With a broad cut-away design that sits proud on your neckline, the collar’s elegant proportions are surely distinctive. Long points ensure that with or without a tie, everything stays stylishly in place below a jacket’s lapel while at the same time allowing for a beautiful collar roll. The unique, off-set two button collar – while visually interesting – also adjusts slightly the placket seam, shifting it off the center of your neck, allowing a tie to sit more comfortably.

And the fabric, sourced from Thomas Mason, is just amazing; silky smooth yet substantial. Thick Australian mother of pearl button and single needle tailoring round out the many features which put this shirt at the top of the stack.

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Cobbler_Union_George_1We recently introduced OTC readers to Cobbler Union, a new footwear brand that creates bespoke quality shoes at perfectly attainable prices. The company was founded by luxury footwear industry veterans who know what goes into shoes costing thousands of dollars. Using their powers for good, these fellows set about the goal of allowing any stylish gent to be well turned-out from the ankles downward.

After our impressive experience with the Francis II double monkstrap, we turned our attention to a pair of Cobbler Union boots – the George. Dress boots offer much of the same style and classic form as a pair of brogues, but have the added flexibility of working equally well with stylish, but less formal outfits. Boots can more comfortably dress up jeans or khakis in a way that dress shoes, even those built along informal lines, can’t.

The George combines a Goodyear welt construction with Norwegian stitching, which creates a strong piece of footwear that’s handsome without being too dressy. It’s a dress boot, yes, but with a bit more on the “boot” side of the scale. In fact, to highlight it’s versatility, we are showcasing a #WeekWithGeorge on OTC’s Instagram page.

Boots like the George,  a plain cap-toe with sturdy but low-profile Vibram soles, also have the added advantage of being able to brave inclement weather while keeping your feet dry and comfortable. With a casually refined urban silhouette that belies its work boot qualities, the George is meant to take daily abuse with aplomb. In short, they are built to last and become better looking while doing so.

 

Constructed on the SOHO last, the George provides comfortable, but not too pronounced arch support. The leather is a French grained country calf that wears well and handles the inevitable bumps, scars, and abrasions nicely. The aforementioned Vibram sole, while studded and practical, is also non-marking and blends seamlessly into the boot. In addition, the color-matched Italian leather interior, quilted foot bed, and neatly attached pull tab, are all hallmarks of Cobbler Union’s fixation on craftsman-focused detail.

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