ACCORDING to statistics, women do nearly 90 per cent of all the consumer buying in this country. Obviously a tremendous amount of the merchandise bought for men is bought by women. Moreover, according to both makers and retailers of men’s wear, the little that women do not actually buy for men they influence enormously. There are men, to be sure, who would no more think of asking feminine advice about their clothes than they would about their office personnel. But, incongruous as it may seem, the fact remains that most women buy the pants in their family even if they don’t wear them.
For several reasons this seems to me unfortunate. It divides the selling and the buying of merchandise too sharply into classes dominated by the separate sexes, since most of the makers and retailers of merchandise are men, or, at the very least, men direct and formulate sales policies. So, with women doing most of the buying and men doing most of the manufacturing and selling, you have an unhealthy and unbalanced situation. Some of the greatest misunderstandings between these two groups are created by this very war between the sexes.
However, as things stand, there are doubtless men who cannot spare the time, even the little it would take for their requirements, for their own buying, and equally there are men so accustomed to the selections of their women that they will never attempt to change a routine which may prove unsatisfactory but saves both mental and physical effort. So, if you must buy for a man, you may as well do it as easily and as authoritatively as possible. Perhaps the first step is to adopt as far as possible the masculine conception of what constitute important points in the merchandise. Exquisite lace and rosebuds on feminine underwear may very possibly have an actual cash value to many women, but purchasers should stop to consider very carefully whether the masculine equivalent of rosebuds is important to men and has a cash value for them.
Let me illustrate what I mean by quoting from a report by a testing laboratory on the subject of men’s shorts. Of eight pairs tested, the tensile strength of warp and filling threads sharply varied, with the warp threads twice and occasionally nearly three times as strong as the filling threads. The report concludes with this comment: ‘Statements have been made from time to time that fabrics should have a balanced strength to be satisfactory (that is, should have not too broad a difference between warpand fillingthread strength). This is impossible with the majority of cotton fabrics, especially material for shorts, where style and appearance must also be taken into consideration.’
But who says ‘style and appearance’ must be taken into consideration in buying men’s shorts? The men who wear them? Not at all. The men who make them and sell them, for they know they are really selling to women, and a modern fundamental of retailing is that style and appearance are the great stimuli which bring women to the buying point, and without which they never come to that point. Without attempting to argue this question in regard to her own clothes, the rational feminine consumer ought to scrutinize very carefully the reasons why she buys the merchandise she does for her special masculine consumer. Style and appearance have their place in a man’s clothing, but it is to be seriously questioned whether a man would sacrifice durability in his underwear to obtain style.
From a man’s standpoint the qualities he requires in a pair of shorts, let us say, are, in the order of their importance: comfort, durability, continued durability, and decent appearance. If he can obtain_these without paying more than a reasonably low price he is generally satisfied and pleased with the merchandise. To get these qualities you must check cut, fabric, tailoring, and guaranteed performance under laundering. Durability in a fabric depends upon the plainness of the weave, the number of warp and crosswise threads, and the tensile strength of the fabric in both directions. If too much filling has not been added to the fabric (2 per cent is the maximum desirable) you can check the closeness of the threads yourself in a practical if not wholly accurate way. Hold the fabric up to a strong light and notice whether the texture seems close and even, and again whether the pattern of the weave throws many larger yarns to the surface, as in a crosswise rib. Such yarns are apt not only to catch the surfaces of every abrasive substance, but, because of their size, to cut through the finer yarns woven against them. Incidentally, a fancy fabric or novelty material is almost sure to cost more than a good plain weave without giving you additional durability.
Once you feel fairly certain that the fabric was woven for reasonable wear, make sure it is color-fast if color is used, and that it has been Sanforized-shrunk. In no other article of wearing apparel is shrinkage more apt to cause actual discomfort, yet the false term ‘pre-shrunk’ is plastered all over underwear which has a residual shrinkage of anything from 5 per cent up. Again remember that a 1 per cent fabric shrinkage is all that is wise, for at least another 1 per cent must be allowed for garment shrinkage; and while there are those who insist that 4 or 5 per cent shrinkage in men’s underwear is inconsequential, the truth is that from the standpoint of both comfort and wear a 2 per cent total is the only legitimate limit.
As to the fibres used in making shorts, cotton of course is the prime favorite, being absorbent, light, easily washed, and durable when of good quality. Silk underwear is even more absorbent, is comfortable, especially in winter, and is pleasant to the touch, but cannot be laundered as safely under all circumstances as cotton. Rayon, because of the smooth slippery surface of the fibre, feels cool in summer, letting the fabric rest against the body instead of a layer of air — the reverse of the recipe for warmth. But rayon lacks durability and loses its strength while wet, so is not as amenable to hard laundering as cotton. Shorts made of all rayon, woven or knit, have a great tendency to elongate, — that is, stretch out and stay that way, — and although rayon is very absorbent, more so than cotton, it dries more slowly.
Pajamas (meaning literally ’leg garments’) seem to be the subject of more complaints from men than any other article except outer shirts. Most of these complaints rest upon two things — incorrect sizes and careless finishing. Since pajamas are usually sold in only four sizes, A, B, C, and D, most of the size trouble comes from skimped cut. Sometimes the wrong size is bought, sometimes the size is incorrectly marked. And unfortunately, since there are no enforceable standards, each manufacturer is apt to use his own — and even these will vary according to the price of the finished garment.
The points at which skimping of fabric or cut is most apt to occur, affecting comfort and wear, are chest measurements, sleeve lengths, leg lengths, and leg widths. The last measurement is consistently overlooked by consumer buyers and consequently is a favorite spot for decreasing the amount of material.
The same points about the selection of fabrics in shorts hold true in regard to pajamas. Silk pajamas and rayon pajamas are governed in durability and comfort by their generic fibre characteristics as well as by fabric construction and garment cut. Silk is warmer in winter, rayon cooler in summer, to the touch; both may be of porous weaves which are cool, or close dense weaves which are warmer. Neither is as tubbable as cotton, although parachute silk has extraordinary tensile strength and resistance to abrasion. It is more costly, of course, than cotton, but should outwear it.
Finally, make sure buttons are guaranteed washable and sewed on firmly, buttonholes are strong and well made, all edges finished neatly, and bindings cut and stitched to prevent easy ripping of sharp corners and angles, as in a V neck of a slipover pajama coat. Elastic belts should have with them a guarantee of how many launderings they can endure without losing their life — some elastic used in pajama waistbands stops being elastic after two or three washings.
A man’s shirt should be so much an expression of his personality and individual good taste that style and appearance emphatically enter into its purchase. Often the difference between two shirts of equal durability lies in the nice attention to fine detail in the fit and finish, and although the well-finished shirt from the standpoint of style may cost more than the other, a man who understands the differences and their effect on appearance will usually prefer the costlier shirt. Strangely enough, the woman who runs to ‘rosebuds’ in buying masculine underwear often ignores the extremely important style points of a shirt.
There are infinite grades of men’s shirts on the market, and no manufacturer or retailer seems willing to admit that the shirts he makes or sells are not absolute perfection in every detail. The ‘89-cent shirt with all the fine detail of an expensive shirt’ is a favorite advertising myth, and an excellent way to begin intelligent shirt buying is to recognize that fine details cost money; not necessarily a lot of money, — there are fine shirts to be had for less than $3.00, — but some money. No one in the shirt business works for love. If you buy an 89-cent shirt you will undoubtedly get no more than 89 cents’ worth of shirt, and if you stick to the price long enough you will sooner or later get less than 89 cents’ worth.
The merchandise manager of a large department store once remarked casually to me that his store found it wiser, when the market forced an increase in price of a popular men’s shirt, to take it entirely out of that price class, raise the price considerably, and bring up a cheaper shirt from a lower class to fill its place. In other words, if $1.75 has been the price of a certain shirt, and the market goes up enough to warrant a new price of perhaps $2.10, the price will be shoved up to $2.50, and a shirt which has been selling for $1.49 will be marked $1.75. In this way those who happily buy to a price still pay their favorite $1.75, but they get a quite different shirt. However, the changed status is not mentioned by the retailer.
A good shirt begins with a good design, and that alone accounts for some of the cost of manufacturing. When the design is transferred to a pattern, there is again a margin of difference in cost and efficiency, for a pattern made of wood, not cardboard, is essential to accurate cutting and size. Moreover, the making of such wood patterns is an art; only a few men in the country are expert at it, and it entails the use of five-ply wood — that is, wood in five separate thin layers, all of which the expert maker chooses of different woods, so that each layer, reacting differently to changes of atmosphere and stress, will equalize the tendency to warp and maintain a true and accurate shape. Such a pattern — and each shirt style must have its own, of course — costs $1.98, against 98 cents for a cheaper wooden one or a fraction of that for cardboard, with all its opportunity for inaccuracies.
Strict supervision in the plant of a fine shirtmaker ensures the fabric’s being cut as the designer intended. Wooden patterns are constructed in such a way as to allow them to be fastened in place at strategic points, so that the cutter cannot chip off a little here or there to fit his pieces into a smaller allowance of cloth. The ‘chiseling’ manufacturer who provides stores with their cheaper shirts, their ‘bargain’ and ‘special sale’ shirts, — sometimes authentic and sometimes not, — may decrease the width of sleeves, length of shirttail, depth of cuffs, breadth of shoulders, and so on, to save cloth, and unless the consumer buyer checks these points according to standard measurements it is very easy for him to be fooled by the appearance of a shirt, especially when shown through transparent paper.
It is interesting to note that colored shirtings and patterned fabrics are invariably cut by hand in the good shirt plant because of the meticulous care necessary to match designs in the sections of the pattern. A shirt may just miss being attractive and distinctive because pockets were not carefully matched to the patterned background, the right side matched to the left of the front, the buttonhole panel matched to the front, and so on. But plainly it takes more time, more skill, and more patience to do this; consequently the colored or patterned shirt of the same grade of fabric and cut as a similar white shirt will cost more. Incidentally, where it may on occasion be safe to buy bargain shirts in white goods, if you care for appearance and lasting distinction you will hesitate long before buying ‘ bargain ’ colored or patterned shirts.
There are numerous ways in which a shirt may have its quality graded down in subtle, almost invisible details. For instance, when the cuffs are attached to the shirt, — single, not double-fold cuffs, — they should be at least 2 1/2 inches deep to have proper appearance and length. Shirttails ought to be at least 33 inches long, measuring from where the yoke joins the collar at the back — and sizes larger than 16 should have tails at least a full 34 inches long. Buttonholes ought to be stitched closely, smoothly, and firmly; buttons should be lockstitched into place (Did you ever inquire how the buttons on a shirt were sewn in place? Either a chain stitch which easily unravels or a lock stitch which stays locked can be used); and not one stitch less than twenty to the inch should be used in any seam. Notice how the points of the collar look; are they sharp and true and accurate? A good shirtmaker turns these points on a special gadget which automatically sharpens and trues them.
With regard to materials for shirts, since they range from porous-knit sport shirtings to lumberjack woolens, the only guides which can be offered are the now familiar ones of checking fabrics for thread count, tensile strength, colorfastness, and shrinkage. Remember that more than 1 per cent shrinkage in a man’s collarband can make it an instrument of refined torture. But perhaps the most important thing for all women to understand about buying men’s shirts is that a fine shirt deserves respect and appreciation. It is the product of craftsmanship and of high standards in every phase of its construction. And, even more truly than in other fields of merchandise, you cannot get something for nothing when buying shirts.
When it comes to men’s outer wear, suits and coats, the most any woman should do is applaud and make the best of the choice of her masculine consumer buyer. But an understanding of certain fabrics used in men’s wear and an appreciation of such terms as ‘hand tailoring’ may be useful, and some of it can perhaps be impressed on the actual buyer. ‘ Hand tailoring’ is a term which should be looked sternly in the face and made to give an account of itself. The Better Business Bureau lists twenty-six points which constitute actual hand tailoring, and so seldom are even half of this number present in the work which is labeled ‘hand-tailored’ that the term has come to mean very little unless guaranteed by the firm behind it.
Real hand tailoring makes a better suit from the standpoint of fit and the permanency of its shape. But, on the other hand, there are some details which may be questioned. In a suit selling for $35, if there are bellows pockets, fine canvas linings, handmade buttonholes, real horn buttons, hand-padded lapels, something is wrong somewhere. Either the fabric itself is apt to be of low durability, or the balance of the tailoring is skimped — or someone who worked on that suit is not getting a living wage.
It may be of use to consumers, both masculine and feminine, to clarify here some of the confusion which has grown up around the famous fabric known as Harris tweed. It is deservedly popular and rates as one of the finest woolen materials made. But its enviable reputation has resulted in the abuse of its name, so that there are literally thousands of coats and suits for both men and women being sold as Harris tweed — or advertised as ‘Harris tweed type’ — when they never saw one of the Hebrides. Let me quote the definition of Harris tweed as supplied by the English Board of Trade: ‘Harris tweed means a tweed made from pure virgin wool produced in Scotland, spun, dyed, and finished in the Outer Hebrides, and hand-woven by the Islanders at their own homes in the Islands of Lewis, Harris, Uist, Barra, and their several appurtenances, and all known as the Outer Hebrides.’
So if it is n’t hand-woven it can’t be Harris tweed; and it may be handwoven and still not be Harris tweed unless somewhere on the selvage, once in every five yards, is the famous sign of the Harris Tweed Association, the cross mounted on an orb. It means so much, this symbol, that manufacturing tailors usually manage to leave it visible in some part of the garment. There are other excellent tweeds, some made here in our own country, but for the characteristic peat smell, warm original dyes, soft rich texture, great strength and warmth of Harris tweed you must be sure you are really buying Harris tweed (or, as you may see from the definition, it may be ‘Barra tweed,’ ‘Lewis tweed,’ and so on).
Women can also be of help in selecting fabrics for men’s suits and coats by insisting that the fibres used are accurately identified. A tremendous amount of spun rayon is being mixed with wool to make men’s suits, and although, according to the Federal Trade Commission ruling, the presence of rayon must always be disclosed, too many men’s clothes are still being sold without identification. Often fabrics advertised naïvely as ‘ basketweaves ’ may have some rayon in them; worsteds called ‘tropical worsteds’ often have as much as 50 per cent of rayon in them; and some of the best known and advertised trademarked fabrics are sold with no mention whatever of their fibre content. Palm Beach cloth, for instance. Do you know what Palm Beach cloth is made of? Read the next advertisement or label you see and discover, if you can, what fibres it contains. It is unintelligent to buy any fabric without knowing exactly of what it is made. Such buying indicates a lazy mental inadequacy, not noble trust.
The great majority of neckties bought in this strange country of ours are bought by women, and probably most of them as gifts. The average man, if asked to advise a woman on how to buy a necktie for himself, would very likely say a little bitterly, ‘Don’t!’ But, bad as the ‘scarf’ taste of women may be, the average man’s selection is not one of sparkling individualism. So perhaps, with a few hints collected from the necktie experts, women may yet become inspired buyers.
First, remember that a necktie, even when it is called a scarf, must be tied. Consequently select only materials made of fibres that resist wrinkling and creasing, that stay tied and do not easily slip from their knots, that have body and durability; and let the fabrics be those that resist wear. Men seem to become passionately fond of their neckties, and will wear them long after they have gone to shreds if not restrained. An excellent defense is to choose those that have long staying powers.
A bias cut is best, for it has elasticity and give, fitting the neck better than one cut on the straight. A hand-tailored tie is free from the puckers that often follow machine stitching, and keeps its shape longer. If you look carefully at the back of a tie on the wrong side you can tell if it has been hand-tailored by the longish overhand stitches which will appear there if handwork finished the seam. A sevenfold tie wears better, holds its shape better, and looks better than a tie of only three folds. A silk or rayon lining is of no practical value and is a waste of money, but a wool lining is a definite advantage, adding to the tie’s resilience and durability. Sevenfold ties, of course, are not lined, for their own folds act as bulk and lining.
When it comes to buying for color and design, let me quote from numerous letters from masculine tie wearers who plead, ‘Tell our women to stick to conservative colors and patterns when they feel moved to give us neckties, and let us buy our own mistakes. The only chance a man has these days to let loose in color and design is in buying his ties; but when he does his own buying, and repents later of his choice, he can quietly bury the necktie in the back yard, while if Aunt Susie or Cousin Mary picked the nightmare and gave it to him he must wear it — or else!’
Handkerchiefs are another favorite gift of women to men. It is not so easy here to buy the wrong thing, but there are still a few words of warning which may help to avoid blots on the buying scutcheon. First, buy linen — and fine linen, at that. It outwears cotton by many moons, launders better, is softer and pleasanter in use. And it carries prestige, right or wrong. Secondly, make sure the handkerchief was hand-torn (for trueness of hems), as well as handrolled and hand-sewn (to make sure hems will never pucker). Stick to pure white unless you know exactly what the taste of your masculine consumer is — and then stick to white anyway. Colored stripes and borders are apt to be a liability, so far as appearances go, after a laundering or two, for linen fibre does not absorb dye well. Moreover, even Lord Chesterfield, that ardent style setter, felt that pure white linen marked the gentleman and colored fabric the pretender!