Call him the Michael Pollan of menswear. Just as Pollan asked eaters to more thoughtfully investigate the origins of their food and its effect on the environment, Canadian author and journalist Pedro Mendes is asking us to do the same with our clothing in his new book Ten Garments Every Man Should Own, due out on March 30th and available for pre-order now.
Mendes, who’s written about menswear for numerous publications as well as his website The Hogtown Rake and produced the podcast Unbuttoned: G. Bruce Boyer’s Life In Clothes, believes such an attitude is long overdue.
“People are asking these questions: Where is something made, who made it, what’s it made out of?” he says. “That’s been going on with food for a couple of decades, and has led to more transparency in the food industry, people being more mindful about what they’re buying, and a return to cooking and thinking about whole foods. I realize this is desperately missing in the world of clothes.”
However, Mendes isn’t calling for a revolution. Instead, he’s asking us to look back at the classic male wardrobe and consider how we can curb our appetites for overconsumption by investing in quality items that won’t fall victim to the vagaries of fashion but will last for many years with proper care. Through that lens, Mendes re-examines big-ticket items like overcoats and two-piece suits as well as smaller—but no less considered—purchases such as socks and gloves (hint: always look for a glovemaker that sells by the half-size, if not quarter).
Mendes is less interested in prescribing how garments should be worn as he is helping the reader to discover quality in the first place and ensure that they won’t tire of their purchase after a season or two. Just as important to this sustainable ethos is proper wardrobe maintenance; fittingly, the book ends with an entire chapter dedicated to the subject.
After a global pandemic that’s forced many of us to re-examine our buying habits and relationship to the things we own, Mendes’s book feels uniquely timed to the moment, even though it was written before COVID-19.
“Because of the pandemic, I think a lot more people are asking themselves those questions about the clothing and fashion industry,” Mendes says. “It feels like this is potentially the antidote to all that stuff, maybe at the right time.”
In that spirit, we’ve asked Mendes to share 10 of his recommendations for building and enjoying a more thoughtful wardrobe below.
Always Assess Quality
“When I look at a garment, I’m looking at what material was used, the design and the labor that went into it. And typically, cutting back on one of those three is how you cut costs.”
Practice One In, One Out
“This means that once your wardrobe has reached a certain point and you have the basics that you need, nothing else gets added unless something else goes. And for me that’s also an opportunity to think: ‘Do I really need and use the things that I have, so that I actually need to replace them?’ Because if not, then I don’t.”
Don’t Put Blind Faith in Brands
“I don’t mention any brands in the book, because I don’t feel that there is a guarantee that a specific brand will always deliver the best quality. There are certainly brands that I go to and that I like right now, but to put that into print for the next 10 or 20 years? I don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing that, especially because the point is for you to learn to identify quality by yourself. Our society is way too focused on brands.”
Hats Should Be Worn for Function, Not Fashion
“If you look at a photo from the 1940s, the reason all those men are wearing hats is that other men are wearing hats. Primarily, it’s an issue of conformity. But the issue that I make is that they’re extremely functional, both in terms of a style element that finishes off an outfit but also a practical element in terms of keeping yourself dry and keeping the sun off of you.”
Don’t Subscribe to a Limited View of Masculinity
“I think the concern that a lot of men in North America have with clothes is they don’t want to look like they care about it too much, and that’s what needs to shift. That it is somehow not masculine to care about these things. It’s OK to care about watches, it’s OK to care about cars but not clothing. I think there’s a deep-seated misogyny and homophobia that’s built into that, but also a very limited concept of what masculinity is and what masculinity can be.”
Your Grandpa Was Right About Trouser Rise
“Previous generations understood that if you have a higher waist on a trouser, it will give you a smoother line. It elongates your legs and it’s fundamentally more comfortable for your waist and abdomen than a low rise trouser that’s really cinched-in, especially as we get older and our bodies change.”
Custom Is About Fit, Not Flair
“I’ve learned to be moderate with my choices. The first and only pair of custom shoes that I had, I went bold because it was custom, without understanding that custom fundamentally allows for a better fit. That’s what’s really going on.”
Don’t Write Off the Necktie
“I don’t mind if men stop wearing ugly ties. I don’t mind at all. And most men who wear ties— we’re talking politicians and sports broadcasters—are wearing ugly ties with ugly knots, and that’s fine for those to go away. But the concept of the tie, which is a colorful piece of silk tied around the neck, that’s an opportunity for masculine expression that doesn’t really exist any other way. That’s why I’d rather not see it go.”
Discover the Joy of Seasonal Storage
“The process of putting your clothes away and bringing them back out again re-introduces you to your own wardrobe. It’s two weekends a year, if that. You take everything out, have a good look at them, give them a good cleaning, see if anything needs to be fixed or replaced, then you put them away safely and properly. When they come back out again, I still have the feeling of ‘Oh yeah, I forgot I had that.’ Because when you have those things on the shelf all year long, they just become background noise. But when you don’t see them at all and you bring them out, it’s like the dopamine rush of buying new things.”
Maintenance Is Mindfulness
“Building and then caring for the wardrobe is another opportunity for mindfulness in your life. None of it is a chore for me, whether it’s ironing or hand-washing sweaters. The process of working on your clothes puts you in the moment, but also connects yourself to the clothes in a different way than if you just throw them in a machine or take them down to someone else.”