Best of Habilitate 2022

Shirts hanging in a closet
Image is my own / All rights reserved

As we head into this final stretch leading up to the holidays, I once again wanted to pause for a moment and take stock of the year that was. 2022 has certainly been punctuated by the kinds of crises and conflicts that have come to feel overly familiar in recent years and which admittedly fall outside of the bailiwick of a garden-variety menswear blog. So how about we focus on the positive? Particularly the good things that have happened across the pages of this site, for which I have you, dear reader, to thank.

As a result of your interest and support, Habiliate has done a lot of growing over the last twelve months. My analytics tell me that the site has grown well over 1 000% in terms of web traffic. To put that into perspective, the total number of visitors and views I got in all of 2021 I’ll now see in a single busy week. 

I’ve also been able to expand the type of content included on here, with the addition I’m most proud of being a series of interviews done with people from within the menswear world. It’s been great to see these rank consistently among the most popular posts on here and I’m hugely grateful to everyone who agreed to talk with me for this series. I loved putting them together and hope to do many more in the future. 

I’ve also recently graduated from iPhone photography to using a real camera in taking pictures for this site and its attendant social media profiles, I’ve gotten the opportunity to contribute to some other outlets, and I’ve always got at least a dozen other plans both big and small brewing for Habilitate’s future. 

In the meantime, however, carrying on with a tradition started last December at the end of the site’s first year of operation, here are some of the most popular articles from 2022 in case you missed them. It’s almost always a surprise seeing what people respond to most and, conversely, what will occasionally pass without as much notice. What remains constant, however, is the pleasure I take in putting out stuff on this site and the huge gratitude I have for you taking time out of your day to read it. I’ll be off on holiday over the festive season starting this week so this will be the last post of the year, but I’ll be back on the usual publishing schedule come January. Until then, thank you again and happy holidays!

Casio dive watch

The History of Casio Watches

Casio is admittedly something of an odd case study for a menswear site. For one thing, they make watches rather than clothing, and by and large those watches have an ostensibly niche appeal. Moreover, watchmaking is just one part of an otherwise sprawling and multifaceted business empire. You’re as likely to find ‘Casio’ printed on a calculator or keyboard as you are a wristwatch, not to mention a slew of other electronic products including digital cameras, mobile phones, gaming consoles, and tills (or cash registers, depending on which part of the world you’re conducting said bit of technological sleuthing).

While all of this makes Casio a somewhat unusual proposition in menswear, these selfsame features make it a paragon of Japanese business in the latter part of the 20th century and beyond, the landscape of which is largely defined by labyrinthine conglomerates boasting a laundry lists of diversified operations. Casio was founded well before this became the norm, however, back in 1946 in Mitaka, Tokyo by Kashio Seisakujo, who started out making mechanical parts. Among his early products was a so-called yubiwa pipe, a metal ring worn on the hand intended to suspend a cigarette while smoking. Since tobacco, like so many commodities, was in short supply in postwar Japan, cigarettes were typically smoked right down to the nub and Casio’s early innovation helped save smokers’ fingers and lips from getting burnt in the process.

Pink Clarks Wallabees

All I Wanna Be Is in a Pair of Wallabees

I have been wearing Wallabee-style shoes in one form or another since I was a teenager. For much of that time, though, I was blissfully unaware that the style in question is primarily made by and associated with the long-established British shoe brand (which I wrote about earlier this week) known as Clarks. I grew up in South Africa where the same territory carved out elsewhere by Clarks has long been dominated by a brand called Grasshopper, which is a beloved national institution nearly on par with springbuck and vuvuzelas. It was only when I moved to the UK some years ago that the crepe-soled shoes I had been wearing most of my life started being misidentified as kicks made by Clarks. Eventually, I tried out said British equivalent and, despite my patriotic allegiances, will confess to liking them just as much, if not more.

Kleman Padre Tyrolean shoes

The Transformative Style of Tyrolean Shoes

The famed designer and high-end shoemaker Manolo Blahnik once said ‘shoes are the quickest way for women to achieve instant metamorphosis’. 

It’s a great line from a man who certainly knows what he’s talking about, but I reckon his insight in this case needn’t be gender-specific. While it’s true that the canonical footwear choices for men aren’t quite as metamorphic as their feminine equivalents — no pair of bluchers are likely to have as dramatic an effect on someone’s posture and appearance as a set of Mr Blahnik’s heels, to be sure — but there’s no denying the transformative power of a good pair of shoes. They can have you looking, walking, and, most importantly, feeling like a new person. Despite the comparatively modest portion of real estate occupied by footwear in the full sweep of an outfit, pound-for-pound they might have the greatest effect on the overall look and feel of an ensemble.

Close-up of Barbour Beaufort jacket label

The Homespun Luxury of Barbour

It’s a truism in fashion that trends move from the top downward. We all remember Meryl Streep’s famous speech from The Devil Wears Prada in which she acerbically details how a certain shade of blue originated in a collection of cerulean gowns by Oscar de la Renta only to trickle down via the various cogs of the clothing industry to land, several years later, in the bargain bin where a ‘blithely unaware’ Anne Hathaway would eventually find her own ‘lumpy blue sweater’. Fashion, as Meryl so memorably pointed out, is by its nature an aspirational business in which we look above our respective stations for inspiration on how to dress, whether consciously or otherwise.

More often than not, the things we want to wear are desirable precisely because they are tantalisingly out of our reach or feel that way for being worn by people who seem cooler, richer, or more glamorous than we feel ourselves to be. There are some anomalies, of course. Jeans are an obvious example. Flannel shirts and work boots are two more that spring to mind. But these tend to be the exceptions.  

What is rarer still is for a brand to invert this established trajectory — to move from prole to posh, in other words, rather than the reverse. Luxury and aspirational brands tend to enter the market at the high end rather than working their way up over time. Hermès started out making equestrian gear for the nobility. Breguet designed watches for the court of Versailles. Yves Saint Laurent broke out while working for Christian Dior and Ralph Lauren did the same at Brooks Brothers. Barbour, on the other hand, is a notable exception to this otherwise well-established rule. 

Bass Weejun wine penny loafers

G.H. Bass Shoes: More Than Two Pennies’ Worth

When I was writing about penny loafers earlier this week, the topic of G.H. Bass & Co. naturally dominated the conversation — as well it should given that they invented the style.

If, however, you were tempted to think that the story of G.H. Bass begins and ends with their most famous shoe, you’d be wrong. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the serious prep cred of the Weejun loafer, it turns out Bass has far more rugged roots that predate the arrival of the penny loafer by more than half a century.

John Baker's Chelsea boots

The Timeless Elegance of the Chelsea Boot

Is there a more chic boot offering out there than the Chelsea boot? Sure, some nice dress boots are always a welcome sight and a pair of similarly-styled but lesser-known jodhpurs are nothing to sniff at, but you would be hard-pressed to find a contender that can beat the Chelsea’s debonair good looks.

The key lies in its sleek minimalism. There is simply neither fuss nor frill to be found within sight of the average Chelsea boot. No laces, no embellishments, no unexpected angles, and hardly any visible seams or stitching. All you have are one or two pieces of leather that constitute an upper combined with a rounded toe, ankle-length height, and a small heel. The closest they’ll generally come to any sort of embellishment would be a set of elastic strips along the flank of the shoe that allow it to slip on and stay on, plus one or two pull tabs to aid the same process. In both instances, however, the Chelsea — like a model who knows their angles — has the good sense to position these details largely out of the line of sight.

Man crossing the street in Dickies 874 work pants

874s Forever: In Praise of Dickies Work Pants

Jerry Seinfeld has a joke about how most men dress the way they did in the last good year of their lives. It’s as though they froze the moment in fashion history when last they experienced happiness and then they just ride it out until the end. Hence the time capsule effect of all the weird dad outfits out in the world.

I reckon you can go back even further than that. For my money, it’s really all about the things you loved wearing as a child. I’ve found that it’s often the clothes you’re first drawn to in your formative years that, for better or worse, you keep returning to throughout the rest of your life.

People who care about clothing tend to have a lot of nostalgia for the things they wore in their youth. I suspect everyone has a tally of old clothes they desperately wished they hadn’t gotten rid of or wished that they could find again. It’s an impulse that has spurred countless questionable eBay bids and fueled many a recursive fashion trend.

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