OTC Recommends: The Leather Document Folio

Most of us regularly tote around briefcases, computer or messenger bags, rucksacks and even the odd updated map case.  The bag, long a fixation of mine, is a staple in many guys’ lives.  And bags seem to be everywhere – more so than in the past, really.  We have more to carry around and and often want less of it in our pockets.

However, the simple task of transporting papers and a file or two in style can leave many of us at a loss.  Whether a business meeting or the simple desire to pare down and try something with functional flair, that gray space between bag and manila folder is sometimes tricky.

To whit, I offer you the the leather document folio.  Simple, elegant, clean and actually quite versatile.

Whether you’re jetting off to Paris or sitting down for a three o’clock staff meeting, your accessories should always be stylish and well thought out. While there are a variety of folio styles, the zippered style that opens up on three sides is a favorite of mine.  It lays flat on a table and allows for quick access.  I also like the classic larger under arm “college professor” folio.

True, folios have limited space and can never really compete with the functionality of a messenger bag or roomy elegance of a soft sided brief bag. You always have to hold it, or tuck it under your arm, and often there is no outside slash pocket for a paper or metro pass.  But such limitations are to me a big part of their charm.

By necessity I am forced to shed most of the stuff I habitually carry around but never really use.  It is simplification by requirement.

There are variety of other formats when it comes to leather folios, from a simple, single zippered pocket to the stylistic flair of an envelope style tuck-in flap.  Some are wider, to accommodate a little more – maybe a thin laptop, iPad or book.  The variety is endless, and that’s what makes them so interesting and useful.  For example, my Jack Spade banker’s envelope is just one big pocket, while an older folio from Italy contains a beautifully crafted selection of sleeves and pockets.

What to carry? A wallet.  A phone. A pad, a pen, some calling or business cards, and a few important documents should do the job.

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Filofax: Still A Classic

Although my trusty iPhone is always within easy reach, without a doubt I’m equally devoted to my old, reliable Filofax.  Though many have sounded the death knell of paper planners, nothing really engenders the same emotional reaction as a loose-leaf planner filled with a calendar, note pages and To-Do lists.

My particular organizer has seen service on and off for the better part of a dozen years.  I’ve tried other planners, but often their style and format were too limited for my needs.  So back I turned to my elegant and trusty black Filofax personal size planner.  It is a buttery soft lambskin that wears its age well.  Soft and pliable and with just enough scuffing around the spine and edges, this handmade Filofax cover seems to hold memories, thoughts and events all by itself.

Personal accessories are an important part of any man’s life.  The things we carry and consider special tell others what we value and consider truly special.  Paper planners are tactile and personal in a way that electronic organizers – no matter how advanced – can never be.  You can jot and note, doodle and make a list; turn a page or stash a newly acquired business card.

They are also reliable and portable.  My computer may crash, but not my Filofax.  And when that leather starts to look thoughtfully abused by time, I will be glad for the personality it imparts.  Not so with my iPhone.

To me, like a flat leather folio, a worn-in Filofax is an elegant and incredibly personal item.   It imparts a sense of intellectual anachronism, of curiosity and an appreciation for classics.  The Filofax fits in nicely when going to meetings, can substitute for a notebook and is the perfect place for those loose scraps of paper currently cluttering up your bag.

These remarkably resilient tools have been around since 1921 and hold a certain cache due to the many elegantly constructed covers from which one can choose.  An endless supply of refill pages, forms and calendar formats – sort of like paper apps – allows one to customize a Filofax to his exact needs.

My electronic tools have a prominent – vital, really – place in my life, but I am constantly drawn back to this arguably old-fashioned method of organization.   But, for me at least, that is the attraction.  A beautiful pen and leather-bound agenda, notebook and planner make life’s daily tasks seem a little more special.  And that is one thing everyone can use.

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New York-based British Apparel recently contacted OTC with the news that, along with its Italian partner Punto, they had developed the world’s first, 12-month, year-round cashmere socks. And, they are machine washable. Would I like to try out a couple of pair?

Of course I did; not only because I’ve wanted to check out cashmere socks ever since I sold them at $175 a pop for Ralph Lauren way back when, but also because I really wanted to see if they are in fact machine washable. One of the biggest pet peeves I have about these kinds of luxury items is the maintenance factor.

According to British Apparel’s press release, these new socks are, “Hailed The Coziest, Comfiest Socks Ever. British Apparel’s Revolutionary New ‘All-Season Cashmere Collection’ Snubs All Temps, Cuddles Feet In A Cocoon Of Pillow-Soft Cushioning Year-Round. Then, just toss ’em in the washer!”

Cashmere of course is the holy grail of cold weather style. Light and pliable yet warm and silky soft – the last few years have seen every company from Brooks Brothers to Costco hawking their cashmere goods.

Quality and durability wax and wane depending on the maker and some claims while impressive are a little impractical. Anyone who has worn a single- or double-ply cashmere sweater to the office can probably tell you that triple-ply is only needed during arctic expeditions.

But winter is still cashmere’s ideal clime and the idea of year-round cashmere socks intrigued me. According to BA, their Punto-made cashmere socks are “Mother Nature’s ultimate shock absorbers.”

With that impressive claim in mind, off I went to the daily commute. While I was no less tired at the end of my test week, I have to admit that my cashmere ensconced feet felt great. In fact, what struck me was that they felt so good I never really thought about those socks I was trying out. Not bad at all.

As great as cashmere is, cashmere socks have two well-known problems: one, their fame as winter’s one-trick pony, and second, their reputation as being frail and fragile – suitable only for hand washing.

Those two Achilles’ heels have apparently been resolved because I’ve shuttled my Punto socks from washer to dryer several times after days of use and they are just fine. Mind you, I followed the care instructions but I nonetheless pretty well beat them up.

What makes it work? Essentially, Punto’s new collection is a hi-tech blend of yarns that combine three hybrid versions of everyday yarns – cashmere, super-soft cotton and a smidgen of hi-performance nylon for stretch, elasticity and long-wear durability.
So, technically, they are not cashmere-only socks, no doubt leaving some purists appalled, but I have no problem with a little modern tinkering.

The collection’s 18 colors come in a dress weight and are available in the taller and dressier, over-the-calf silhouette as well as the shorter and sportier, mid-calf height. Retail prices for the socks will run in the range of $55 to $65, respectively.

To buy your own pair, please visit British Apparel’s website and online store.

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From The OTC Archives: Bow Ties

Mike T. from Scottsdale Arizona recently asked if OTC has ever written about bow ties. Mike has been sporting them for 30 years and I couldn’t be happier to hear it.

As a guy from New England, and an Ivy League college town to boot, I know from bow ties. I have long been a big fan and to me they have always represented a shot of jaunty intellectual creativity. So, I dug through the OTC archives and pulled together some thoughts on bow ties.

Just so we’re clear, I am taking about the bow ties you actually have to tie yourself. Clip-ons are to me a wasted effort. The imperfection of a self tied tie is what makes it such a personal expression of your own style. The only tie knot that should appear symmetrically flawless is the double Windsor, and that’s only because if done correctly it can look no other way.

Southern gentlemen have embraced the bow tie for generations and it seems that the current upsurge in bow tie interest was given birth in the Low Country. My instinctive style guide is finally getting some validation as bow ties are now starting to show up all over the place. Southern gentlemen though seem to have a better understanding of the bow tie’s edgier, intellectual capacity. A bow tie takes some guts to wear and, stereotypes notwithstanding, is not for the meek and timid.

About as Southern a bow tie as you can get

Tucker Carlson, the political commentator stopped wearing his trademark bow ties in part because he came to realize that they were viewed as slightly aggressive. Apparently in the tie-wearing world, at least in D.C., they are the sartorial equivalent of daring someone to pick a fight.

The core of the bow tie movement seems to be a particular elevation of the overall trend toward a sense of formality in menswear. We all know this does not mean that every guy out there wants to wear a three piece suit to work. However, if you look across the landscape of men’s clothing there is a definite move toward looking better and cleaning up.

This is not new, I’ve been talking about the trending away from slouchy casual for a while; but in my opinion, it is now taking on more definition. Where the latter 1990s, just before the tech boom, was a boring morass of bland office wear – really, the last clearly defined period of “business dress” as a uniform – we now have a movement that is actively seeking a modern update of classic influences. And it’s really a self motivating movement; out of the necessity to appear professional and keep one’s job, the desire to get a job or just for the love of dressing well.

Urban cool bow tie

Viewed that way, I would call today’s bow tie wearers the modern dandy. Really, this is the perfect compromise for the stylish man of today (or even the man of today who wants to be stylish). Think about it: a dandy, in his original guise, was an individualist during a period of conformity and class stratification.

He was someone who wanted to make a mark of society, turn convention on its head, find a place in the salons and courts of the power players and yet still fall within the general framework of polite society. In essence a dandy is an individualist to whom others are drawn, yet someone who still maintains his own identity.

A handy do-it-yourself guide

I don’t know about you, but to me that rather sounds like the personality of today’s up and coming entrepreneurs and big thinkers. Of course not all of our future world leaders are going to run out to stock up on bow ties, but many of them are looking to find their version of the power suit, the perfect watch, the best car or the right shoes. And as it happens, they seem to be demanding quality of quantity, substance over flash, and the unique over anonymous.

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Style Guide: Argyle Socks

A couple of months ago, as the weather was heating up, I posted a piece about Smart Turnout’s new line of argyle socks.

Although I still think wearing lightly patterned argyle in the summer is a fun, albeit incongruous look, it’s now Autumn and this is truly argyle season.

Argyle’s classic design of overlapping diamonds has a certain heavy warmth which reminds me of bundling up on crisp mornings to walk the dog. Maybe it’s the historic pattern’s Scottish heritage or its perennial prevalence in sweaters and thick socks, but it just makes me think “warmth.”

Wearing argyle can be a tricky thing and if you are not careful “clever-brainy-iconoclast” drifts into “goofy-overpattered-stereotype”. Keep it simply by using this dramatic pattern in small or targeted doses.

Today, let’s talk socks.

Want to spice up your otherwise traditional suit? Try out a pair of dark or muted argyle socks with a black, navy blue or dark grey base. That will tone down the overall pattern and give you a shot of fun pattern without making it look to kitschy. Pick a base color that you would normally wear with your outfit.

Classic and coordinated (credit, WASP 101)

A note – this works when you are suited up but not going overly formal. Barrel cuff? Have a little fun. Cufflinks? Keep it formal.

As a side note, I’m not really a fan of argyle ties. I find them too affected for my taste, but that is a personal thing. Some guys may be able to pull them off, but the look is often more comic than clever. This isn’t the same thing as plaid; clearly I like plaid ties.

Argyle socks can actually be paired with most looks except formal business attire, black tie (obvious I know, but I’ve actually seen it tried) and shorts. Kilts yes, shorts, not really.

Follow the same rule as above and marry the base color to the pant. With casual clothing however, you needn’t match the two; you can offset the two. With jeans, go brighter and let the shock of color and pattern show through. Khakis can either blend or contrast as long as either the pants or top pick up some of the argyle design.

Almost looks like something you would
see today in J. Crew (credit, Ivy Style)

Pairing with casual shoes is actually pretty easy, just something that most guys are not used to. loafers, moccasins, chukka boots and Timberlands are all natural mates to argyle socks. If you want to take a more urban casual turn, try them with classic trainers (sneakers). Do not try this with your Air Jordans or techno cross trainers. Classic Adidas, Stan Smiths, Chuck Taylors or something along those lines will work just fine.

So there you have it, a quick argyle primer for the Fall. I’ll talk about argyle on your upper half shortly. If you have any questions or comments, or if you think I missed something, just let me know.

I’m pretty much over the preppy skull thing,
but the pairing is great

And please remember, especially with something as personally subjective as argyle, different people can pull off different things. Yes, Andre Benjamin can wear argyle head to toe and look totally cool. But do you really plan on wearing that look to the office?
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