Fashion & Style
For the Splendidly Dressed Man, Web Sites to Match
By GINIA BELLAFANTE
Published: September 28, 2004
One afternoon last week, a member of Styleforum.net
, a Web site devoted to the discussion of men's clothing and lifestyle, asked fellow members about a shoe that had aroused his curiosity. The shoe, a cap-toe lace-up from the British cobbler Poulsen Skone, was not the sort of thing one finds at Brooks Brothers. Costing $1,500, it was made of Russian reindeer hide salvaged from a shipwrecked Danish brigantine — the Catherina von Flensburg — that had sunk off the coast of Cornwall in 1786.
"I understand that both Cleverley and John Lobb of St. James obtained some of these hides too," the Web poster wrote, referring to two London-based purveyors of custom shoes. "If anyone has bought any please post pictures. I understand that Prince Charles has got a pair, but he has yet to join the forum."
In recent years, popular culture has made much of the urban woman's affinity for Manolo Blahniks and other variants of the $515 stiletto. But such a woman is unlikely to spend hours of her life on the Internet discussing the construction techniques used in the sole of her pump with a global sisterhood of luxury-goods consumers. The modern woman who places her order for next summer's Prada dirndls in November has obscured another, perhaps more fervidly wardrobe-obsessed species — the professional man between late youth and middle age, for whom life affords few greater pleasures than weighing the intricacies of buttonhole stitching in English versus Neapolitan bespoke suits, or thinking about a Laszlo Vass monk-strap shoe with a boxcalf "L" last.
Styleforum.net is one of about a half-dozen Web logs and Internet discussion sites that have emerged in the past few years to cater to the sometimes fanatical interests of those immersed in the world of classical men's clothing. Styleforum, with about 1,100 members, and AskAndyAboutClothes.com
, with about 1,600, are probably the most popular. They attract recent college graduates just entering the business world; midcareer bankers, lawyers and financiers; and a handful of custom tailors who appear on the sites to offer counsel and also to defend themselves when the particularities of their cutting and sewing methods are maligned or questioned.
Oddly, neither Styleforum nor AskAndy were begun by men with encyclopedic knowledge of lapel widths. As Jeremy Jackson, the founder of Styleforum, put it, "I have no idea what these people are talking about." Mr. Jackson, a 25-year-old office manager at his stepfather's construction company in Seattle, had a mild fascination with clothes when he started the site two years ago. He had participated in an online fashion forum run by GQ magazine but found it too vituperative in tone. "There was a lot of fighting," he said. Moderating Mr. Jackson's site to make sure tempers don't flare too aggressively is a San Antonio writer named Steve Brinkman, whom Mr. Jackson has never met.
Andy Gilchrist, of AskAndy, started his site in 2001, two years after retiring from the aerospace division of TRW in Redondo Beach, Calif. "I'm shocked sometimes at the level of involvement here," Mr. Gilchrist said. "I thought I was pretty obsessed but I've never paid $1,600 for shoes." During part of his tenure at TRW, Mr. Gilchrist, now 60 and coming up on his 35th wedding anniversary, indulged his fascination with men's tailoring by taking a second job on the weekends at a branch of Polo Ralph Lauren. He was the top salesman, he said, for five of his six years at the shop. "I couldn't sell cars but I could sell clothes because I love them," he said. He owns 300 ties.
It is not just the style and construction of clothing that obsesses participants in these sites, or the merits, say, of one Hong Kong tailor over another, but also the maintenance of the garments and shoes on which thousands of dollars have been spent. Members occasionally offer diaristic accounts of the steps, methods and products used to polish footwear. Photographs of the process or the results might be posted. A discussion of shoe care in August ran to 11 pages of entries, one by a poster who took a picture of a pair of Allen-Edmonds Chester wingtip oxfords he had treated with acetone.
Another poster chimed in on the subject of burnishing shoes: "I have found that a felt 6-inch wheel rotating at 1,200 r.p.m. on a drill press can be used, but only if it had has been `loaded' with some wax polish. The wheel should be fairly narrow (1/4 inch) and the burnishing should be done on seams only, with the direction of rotation parallel to the seam axis. Experiment first."
Of course not all of the conversation on the sites is steeped in such arcana. "The most popular question, and it really is amazing after all this time," Mr. Gilchrist said, is whether socks should match the trousers or the shoes. "Of course they should match the trousers to create a nice vertical line, otherwise there is too much focus on the ankle."
At other times members might discuss famous men whose style is worthy of admiration. When this subject came up on Styleforum earlier this month, one member wrote that he liked the Gordon Gekko-ish wardrobe of the investment guru and CNBC talk show host Larry Kudlow. Did anyone know more about his wardrobe? the poster wondered. Within an hour a man who identified himself as Leonard Logsdail replied that yes, he did, because for the past 12 years he has been Mr. Kudlow's tailor. ("He has a number of ties from Eugene Venanzi, a private tie maker. He met Gene through his tailor Leonard Logsdail. That's me!")
Mr. Logsdail, an Englishman living in New York, confirmed he was the poster.
The number of metrosexuals who would name Larry Kudlow as a style icon is probably equal to the number of urbane young women who would like to know where Margaret Thatcher gets her skirts. These sites seem to speak to a demographic other than young city-dwelling grooming enthusiasts — those wishing to rescue the arena of men's haberdashery from the feminizing influence of the new men's shopping magazines like Cargo. The posters on these sites seek to distinguish themselves as connoisseurs of clothing rather than followers of fashion.
As esoterically elitist as some of sites may appear, they have had a democratizing influence in the world of traditional men's clothing, disseminating information about price versus quality to those who may not have their own personal shopper at Louis Boston. Members frequently alert one another other to good deals on eBay, or exceptional sales like one that took place over the weekend at Bennie's, a shoe store in Atlanta, which offered Grensons, English shoes typically costing about $600, for $150 a pair.
"The circles I'm in are not particularly clothes-conscious circles," said Alan Cornett, a 34-year old minister and father of two from Wilsonville, Ala., who recently purchased a Hilditch & Key dress shirt at a good price with the knowledge he acquired on AskAndy. "I've learned a good deal about thrift shopping there," Mr. Cornett said. "And it's helped me to recognize that I wore my shirt-sleeves too short. It cost me nothing to make the change."