Budget

Seiko 5 “New Monster” SRP601

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I recently added the newest addition to my modest watch collection. The Seiko 5 SRP601, one of the new “Monster” diver-inspired watches.

It has a stainless steel case, a very easily rotatable bezel, a date and time complication and comes with a rubber strap which I exchanged with a 22mm leather nato band. The movement hacks, allowing for increased accuracy and has a 40 hour power reserve. All for $157AUD from ebay seller watch-code. A true bargain.

Affordable Automatic Watches under $300

I thought I’d write about automatic watches for those on a tight budget like myself. I recently added a Tudor Black Bay to my rotation of watches but the majority of my collection is comprised of far more affordable timepieces.

Alot of affordable watches these days are quartz. There’s nothing wrong with a quartz movement and the quartz timing mechanism makes them more reliable and accurate than an automatic or manual movement. However, there is an inherent elegance to the smooth sweeping of an automatic second hand compared to the “ticking” of a quartz movement.

The thing with Quartz watches is the batteries need to be replaced every couple of years although companies like Citizen and Seiko have created solar-powered batteries that do not need such replacement. Automatic watches also need servicing and regulating every couple of years should the time slow. The costs of the service can outweigh the costs of purchasing a new watch and the maintenance costs should be a consideration when purchasing a new timepiece.

Unfortunately, an affordable automatic that is also reliable and stylish is difficult to find on a budget and I think the following watches represent good value for money.

Orient Bambino 

Cost: Around $150-250 from Longislandwatches.com or Ebay

The Orient Bambino. Also available in black.

The Orient Bambino. Also available in other colours.

Orient have been in the watch making business for a long time and they make alot of affordable watches with distinct vintage styling. They are currently owned by Seiko and they use in-house movements, which may prove problematic to service in Australia as they don’t have any service centres locally. The Bambino uses a basic 21 jewel movement that’s quite reliable and has a date function.

The Bambino is a callback to the vintage dress watches of the 60s but it is sized for modern proportions and the domed crystal is a nice touch. It is also available in a quartz version called the Capital that is slightly cheaper and can be picked up for under $100 when on sale.

Seagull 816.362

Cost: Around $229 USD from www.good-stuffs.com or www.seagullwatchstore.com

Seagull 816.362

Tianjin Seagull is a Chinese watch company that started making watches in 1955 and they develop their in-house movements which often find their way into most automatic watches made in China. The 816.362 uses the ST2130, a Chinese copy of the Swiss ETA 2824-2 with 28,800 beats per hour and a hacking movement that stops the second hand when the stem is pulled out. The high beat rate means the second hand sweeps more smoothly than say, a cheaper automatic movement with less beats per hour. Someone recently tested the ST2130 and it compared favourably to the Swiss movement.

I own one of  these watches and I like the details. It has a clear case back that allows you to see the inside movement and the silver-toned hands, sapphire crystal and white dial works surprisingly well. A great value dress watch.

Seiko Monster

Cost: $240ish to $300 from ebay, longislandwatches.com

Seiko Monster

Seiko Monster

The Monster is a distinctive diver’s watch that uses the Seiko 4R36 hackable movement. It’s reliable, heavy duty and comes with a slightly domed Hardlex crystal. It’s available in several colours but I strongly recommend getting the version with the bracelet.

Seiko SNZH53J and SNZH57

Cost: Around $150-190ish from Ebay

SNZH53J

SNZH53J

SNZH57J

SNZH57J

Seiko made a diffusion line branded as the Seiko 5, which is marketed at a lower price range and there’s some great watches in there. The SNZH53 and SNZH57 are homages to the Blancpain Fifty Five Fathom and the design reflects that aesthetic. While they don’t have a screw-down crown and I wouldn’t recommend taking them for a swim, they are an affordable automatic watch at a great price.

Seiko SKX007

Cost: Around $230ish-$300 from Ebay

SKX007

SKX007

A true diver’s watch with screw down crown and a steady workhorse 7S26 movement. Probably the greatest thing with this watch is the sheer customisabiltiy of it. There’s alot of parts vendors out there like Dagaz and Yobokies who stock custom dials, bezels and hands that can turn the watch into something that looks like the following;

SKX007 Black Bay Mod with parts from Dagaz Watches

SKX007 Black Bay Mod with parts from Dagaz Watches

SKX007 Planet Ocean Mod

Matthew Aperry Review Round 2, Check Jacket

I was at the shallow end of a monthly paycheck and I wanted an odd jacket for more casual functions, something that wasn’t as businesslike as a regular suit jacket but still smart enough for lazy summer afternoons and social catch-ups.

After placing a recent order for a suit from online tailoring company Matthew Aperry, I had an opportunity to review a follow up product from the online custom clothier to see if the fit could be improved with subsequent orders.

I was interested in a jacket with a more textured and thicker weave than the matte solid blue suit that I had ordered. I noticed a fabric in their books labelled as a “super 160s”. I wouldn’t place too much stock in the super number as the labelling can be quite erroneous but the wool had a nice open weave, a good texture and an interesting pattern which I could not find elsewhere.

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THE SPECS

I spoke to Belinda about the overall workmanship of their jackets. Their default construction is a half canvas with a floating chest piece. This is essentially a piece of wool/cotton canvas slotted between the outer shell of the fabric and the lining at the upper half of the jacket to give the jacket some shape. I requested the following changes to their default pattern.

  • Padded lapels and full canvas. The extra canvas gives the jacket lapels a “roll” which cannot be replicated with the cheaper fused effect. The canvas also means the jacket won’t bubble over time as there’s no glue between the fabric to degrade.

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  • White resin buttonsIMG_20141206_125051_2
  • Blue patterned liningIMG_20141206_124943_3
  • Ticket pocket
  • 3.5 inch notch lapels

Having gone through the ordering process once, it’s far easier to repeat future orders and make changes from the pattern they have stored in their database. My basic measurements were already on a form and I changed the shoulders to make them a little smaller. I also reduced the chest size by 1cm to remove any lumps in the fabric.

The trimmings again, were a basic polyester lining and resin buttons and it would’ve been nice if they could upgrade to something slightly better like mother of pearl or horn, even for a marginal premium.

Nevertheless, the quality of buttons isn’t a huge issue. I can easily replace them with some 24L /32L mother of pearl buttons I picked up from Ebay rather cheaply.

The stitching was clean, typical of a machine made jacket and the buttons were sewn on firmly. The buttons are machine sewn and a little messy. There was some hand finishing around the armholes, which is something that’s rarely seen on jackets at this price range.

Typically, jackets that cost under $400 are 100% machine made, fused and are made of a polyester blend fabric. This is not one of those jackets and represents a reasonable quality for the price.

THE FIT

The package arrived in about 2 weeks in a padded bag from TNT express. Unfortunately, when I received the jacket, there were some slight issues with the shoulders which were still cut about 1cm too wide on either side. It seems no matter how much I request the shoulders to be made a little tighter, their default pattern shifts the shoulders to a wider measurement. This is something I wish Matthew Aperry could address with future orders.

I dropped the jacket off to the tailor for some minor alterations to the shoulder and while it took a few weeks for the tailor to finish the job, it was returned with an improved fit.

Fit, after some minor tailoring thanks to BQ Yan of Sydney

Fit, after some minor tailoring thanks to BQ Yan of Sydney

I was generally happy with their pattern and I noticed they were able to have the checks match up around the shoulders and the pockets, which many made to measure companies could not deliver for that price.

I noticed the patternmaking at the bottom of the jacket could use some improvement, especially as the checks don’t actually line up but it was far more than what I expected for a sub-$250 jacket. Equivalent offerings at places like MJ Bale or Charles Tyrwhitt don’t offer this level of construction and are priced higher.

The rest of the fit was good. I was quite happy with the drape and texture of the fabric. They were able to resolve some problems with a slightly dropped shoulder and the cut was slim but not overtly tight.

CONCLUSION

As I said before, I think Matthew Aperry offer a reasonable product at a more than reasonable price range and their offerings improve with subsequent purchases. Online made to measure is a process and while the first order might not fit 100%, it’s worth a second try to get things right and at their price point, they are an affordable option that can yield a lot of potential. Their willingness to accommodate requests also makes them a better option if you’re looking for something specific.

Now if only they could trim down the shoulders on their default cut and improve the quality of their buttons and lining fabric, they’d be one of the best value online tailors around at the sub $400 bracket.

Matthew Aperry can be found at http://www.matthewaperry.com

Any requests outside the standard patterns should be made by email. They’re generally quite accommodating when it comes to unusual requests.

Pocket Squares on a Budget

I like pocket squares. I think a nicely folded pocket square can add a nice touch to a work suit in a rather dandified fashion. The problem is they’re often difficult to find and some of the squares with nicer patterns, such as those from Henry Carter, Sam Hober or Luxire tend to be priced out of my little league budget.

Of course, there are budget alternatives like just folding a regular white cotton handkerchief in your pocket. There’s also alot of ebay dealers who mass-sell polyester squares for weddings. I personally avoid them because while cheap, the fabric looks rather nasty and they don’t hold creases very well. Nothing like having a wad of polyester lumping out the bottom of your pocket like a misshapen manboob.

I’ve seen a few from thetiebar which have rather interesting designs and at $10-15 USD a pop, they’re certainly affordable and don’t break the budget.

However, I’ve recently found an ebay seller who stocks a wide range of cheap pocket squares and at around $3 per square, they really have no business being this cheap. There’s alot of interesting paisley, stripe and dot designs and I was pretty keen to try them out. Hell, for less than a price of a coffee and free shipping, there was little harm in buying a few and if they didn’t arrive, I’d just go through the arduous process of filing a paypal dispute.

Pocket Squares

I ended up buying three paisley squares in a cotton-blend fabric. I like some small paisleys and they complemented some ties that I had. While the shipping took a while, I was impressed by the quality at the price. These squares aren’t the fancy grenadine or Macclesfield ones you buy from accessory stores but damn, they certainly don’t look like the cheap squares that come with matching ties from wedding sets pushed by alot of ebay vendors and they can hold a fold quite well.

For less than the price of lunch, I managed to score some bargain pocket squares and look awesome doing so. Granted, they took a month to arrive but damn, there’s few complaints there.

They can be found in the ebay store of the user known as “Goodmakers”. He (she?) sure made some good there.

Shanghai C&G Review

SHANGHAI C&G FASHION

One of the things about working in a law firm is that I ended up with quite a few suits, some of which are better fitting than others. I’ve found as I worn through several of my earlier suits, I started to get a better understanding and appreciation for what makes a good suit. Some tailors offer a suit for an affordable price and a reasonable fabric but with poor construction. Others offer suits with good construction, a tailored fit but poor fabric. It’s very rarely that I find a good tailor that can nail a suit with a good fit, a recognised fabric and amazing hand-stitched construction all for a very reasonable price. Shanghai C&G is one of those tailors.

I was first introduced to Shanghai C&G by a friend from Styleforum. Previously, I had bought a number of suits from a range of online and travelling tailors with a presence in Australia with mixed results. However, what I was looking for at the time was a tailor who could work with a length of suiting fabric that I had ordered from Huddersfield during one of their weekly mill specials and who could deliver a three piece suit for under $400. I was pleasantly surprised by the result of my first commission from them and I have since commissioned two more.

WEBSITE

Shanghai C&G are based in Shanghai and they make suits for a number of Australian and US-based made to measure operations. While English is not their first language, they are quite responsive to my email enquiries and I was able to arrange my order over the internet using measurements from some existing suits that I already had in my wardrobe. I also understand they can do in-person fittings if you visit their workshop at Zhoukang Road, Pudong, Shanghai. The online sales is run by a lady named Amy Yang, who is very knowledgeable about the product.

As I alluded to in my review for another online tailor, having a good set of measurements with notes about your body is the key to getting a well-fitting suit from the internet. Things like a lower shoulder, posture, the roll of your shoulders could drastically affect the fit of your suit even though the measurements are the same. While local tailors like P Johnson’s Suitshop deals with this problem by offering a local alteration service after receiving your suit, the services of a local fitter and alteration comes at a price. I strongly recommend anyone ordering to get professionally measured.

Conveniently, there’s a measuring guide on their site and in that respect, they’re very similar to many other online tailors. Do the measurements a couple of times at least, to make sure they’re correct and go to an experienced tailor to comment on the adjustments that need to be made for your body. I find it’s useful to get the measurements from a well-fitting garment to avoid errors, or even send in an existing suit for them to copy.

However, as you’re dealing with the tailors directly, they don’t offer the same level of after sales service you might expect if you go to somewhere like Indochino, Black Lapel, Dragon Inside or Elite Suits. There’s alot of competitors these days. It’s important to note you’ll probably be paying half the price of what you might be paying from those guys for an equivalent product and this is very much a different type of experience in made to measure tailoring where you avoid the glossy marketing. I’m actually quite hesitant to recommend them if you haven’t bought a suit online before because the potential for mistakes is still there, However, the product that C&G produces is better than most.

Not the greatest webpage in the world but it does give you an idea of what they're capable of doing. All orders are arranged by email or in person.

Not the greatest webpage in the world but it does give you an idea of what they’re capable of doing. All orders are arranged by email or in person.

I found the best way to communicate what I wanted to Amy was by sending in photos of what I wanted and being specific on the choice of linings and buttons. They offer a wide range of bemberg and silk linings, as well as horn and pearl buttons. This gives you a lot of options in making what you want. While some of the images on their website are rather questionable, it goes to show what they’re capable of making.

… Kudos to whoever ordered this, but safe to say, it’s probably not for a regular 9-5 office job. Or maybe it is.

I understand they offer a range of tailoring options, with their machine-stitched half canvas being the cheapest, and their hand stitched full canvas being their most expensive. Their cheapest machine made half canvas suits, made from a generic Chinese-milled wool starts around $150, and their hand-stitched full canvas options start around $300. Generally, shipping to Australia costs another $50 or so and the better fabric are more expensive.

THE SPECS

The first suit I ordered from Shanghai C&G was a grey check three piece, with the fabric ordered from Huddersfield during one of their weekly specials. At 25 GBP a metre, I needed about 4 metres to make my three piece suit. I submitted my measurements through the order forms and paid for the order with paypal, incurring a 0.4% surcharge. At the time, the AUD – USD – GBP exchange rate was moderately favourable and my 3 piece suit (including the cost of the fabric) came to around $600 in total, including shipping. This made it a far cheaper option than going to a ready to wear place like MJ Bale or Suitsupply and the suit was fully hand stitched with a full canvas, instead of a machine made half canvas.

I note the Suitsupply La Spalla, a machine made, off the rack full canvas suit in a similar fabric retails for around $1,000.00 which puts the value of the hand stitched, made to measure suits from C&G into perspective.

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Went from this…

Trousers in construction

A curtained lining in the trousers with a split waistband and braces buttons.

Jacket lining detail

Jacket lining detail

Jacket after completion

Jacket after completion

I ordered horn buttons a bemberg lining for a softer feel and I requested 3.5 inch lapels with a functioning boutonniere. I also asked for a split waistband, suspender buttons on the trousers and  horn buttons. Prior to receiving the suit, I had requested Amy to send over some pictures of the work in progress so I could confirm the details for myself. Safe to say, they did not disappoint.

A suit made of this material and with this level of construction could have easily costed over a grand at any other tailor. The Huddersfield fabric is a light super 120s 230gs/m that breathes well and doesn’t hold any creases. It was perfect for a Sydney summer and I was pleasantly surprised they managed to get it right the first try.

THE FIT

CMT Detail

Fit

Fit picture

CMT3

The suit far exceeded my expectations and while there was only a minor sleeve pitch issue which I got fixed at M&R Tailoring for around $90, it was nearly perfect and could have been comparable to a bespoke garment. The fit silhouetted my figure nicely but wasn’t too tight anywhere and gave me plenty of room to move around. The stitching was clean and had all the character of a hand stitched suit with details.

The shoulder pads are soft but also structured and you can feel the substance and layering in the construction, unlike some cheaper tailors. The lining for the trousers are made from a durable cotton, and they are curtained so keys and other sharp objects won’t puncture the pockets.

With subsequent suits from C&G, I was able to refine the fit even further but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by their first attempt at getting the suit right.

Mohair suit still in basting stage.

Mohair suit still in basting stage.

Mohair

Midnight blue mohair suit from C&G, with a length of fabric from Ebay

A double breasted suit I ordered from Shanghai C&G Fashion

Double breasted suit I ordered from Shanghai C&G with the Huddersfield Wool.

THE VERDICT

If you have a specific commission in mind, know your measurements and are patient enough to deal with tailors whose first language isn’t English, I have yet to find another tailor than Shanghai C&G that can do a better job at the same price. The construction, fabric choices and fit comes out far better than any local options and the pricing is very competitive, even in light of the recent hikes. Their cheaper suit options exceed the quality of anything else around that price range and I would not be surprised if more expensive local tailors actually send their jobs to them.

With any online tailor, fit can be improved with subsequent orders and I’ve found C&G are very accommodating in that regard by offering feedback on how to improve the fit. Their willingness to work with CMT (cut, measure, trim. Essentially, providing your own fabric) is remarkably useful when you can find cheap specials in suiting fabric. However, their own fabric options are quite extensive and they can send you scans if you’re looking for, say, a specific pinstripe or check of a specific colour.

Just don’t order the fluro pink leopard print suit and I think you should be fine.

PROS

*Great value, great fit. Probably the best price:quality ratio online made to measure tailor I’ve found. 

*Great fabric options, a wide range to suit every budget.

*Horn buttons available at no extra.

*They accept CMT orders

*Can customise anything and everything. 

CONS

*English not first language

*Ordering can be a confusing process if you don’t know what you want. 

*You need accurate measurements, or failing that, make a visit to China for a fitting

*You need to know what you want. Not beginner friendly and no remake policy. 

*Only accept USD and payment systems are not elegant. Kinda hurts when the AUD is falling in value…

Shanghai C&G can be found at http://greatclothes.cn/

Matthew Aperry Review

Anyone who’s known me for a while will know that I like nice things but don’t like to pay big money. That’s the reality when starting off a new career without much cash to spare. Fortunately, I have amassed a small collection of suits over the years and I was very interested in trying out a deal that came up one weekend from a site called Matthew Aperry.

ONLINE TAILORS

I ordered a number of suits from the internet tailors over the past three years, mostly from workshops based in South East Asia. Matthew Aperry is just one of the many companies that have emerged over the last three or four years that promise tailored clothing like suits, shirts and trousers over the internet. Back around 2010, places like Indochino were doing a lot of business selling custom Chinese-made suits over the internet. There’s a lot more competition now from places like Black Lapel, Elite Suits, Institchu and Dragon Inside and they operate on a similar premise of sending in measurements, and then receiving a suit a few weeks later in the mail.

Matthew Aperry is one of the newer companies and they are one of the more affordable options in online tailoring. They’re a company with an office based in Shanghai but the suits are made in a factory in Suzhou. I’ve previously ordered some suits before and while there were some issues with the fit and ordering process, their staff were very accommodating when assisting me with my options. The sub $300 – 400 USD price range for many of their suits also makes them a very attractive option, especially in light of price rises from many of their competitors in recent years and the falling AUD.

From my experience though, online tailoring isn’t for everyone. It’s easy to get things disastrously wrong and there’s a whole thread of tailoring disasters on Styleforum. These problems are compounded when the tailors making the suit interpret the measurements differently from whoever’s doing the measuring and there’s no easy way of trying on the garment before it’s shipped across the world.

There’s also a plethora of information that cannot be easily communicated by measurements alone, like sleeve pitch, dropped shoulders and posture that can cause problems with fit. In that regard, Matthew Aperry is no worse than its competitors in offering a small alteration credit and a remake if the tailors deem it unalterable. However, it’s interesting that they don’t remake if the measurements you provide are incorrect, which means anyone ordering should get their measurements checked in triplicate before sending it. This is the common pitfall from purchasing from an online tailor rather than say, a brick and mortar store like MJ Bale or a ready to wear vendor like Charles Tyrwhitt.

THE SPECS

The differences in prices between online tailors often comes down to the fabric, construction, fit and after sales service. Often, construction and fabric are compromised for a lower price. Wanting to test out the capabilities of Matthew Aperry, I requested wider lapels, a split waistband, side tabs instead of belt loops and a full canvassed construction where the canvas extends to the lapels, creating a nice “roll”. I also ordered a double breasted waistcoat in the same fabric, with shawl lapels. I note these options aren’t standard on either their main webpage or their aliexpress and I sent instructions and requests over email to Charlene with pictures and accompanying diagrams. I paid under $300 USD for the entire order and I could’ve easily paid three times that amount if I went somewhere else.

I opted to use their order form instead of mucking around on their website, which I think is not very good in detailing options available.

A standard order form, like many other online tailors.

A standard order form, like many other online tailors.

I selected a bright blue superfine wool from one of their books with a blue paisley lining and brown resin buttons. There are a lot of fabric options which don’t appear on their webpage. The good thing about these guys is their willingness to send out fabric swatches and samples to their customers. This is something that not many online tailors offer and there are significant advantages in having a chance to feel the fabric before ordering. The fabric is not comparable to those from named UK mills but they are excellent for the price and indeed better than the cheap wool or poly-wool blends from ready to wear stores. In my experience, they make great beater suits and don’t break the bank.

Some of the fabric choices they were happy to email me. They have three books of suiting fabrics to choose from.

Some of the fabric choices they were happy to email me. They have three books of suiting fabrics to choose from.

THE FIT

The suit arrived in a cardboard box, delivered to my office.

The suit arrived in a cardboard box, delivered to my office.

The suit arrived in a cardboard box with a wire hanger, nicely folded. I placed the order on the 20th of September and by the 8th of October, it had already arrived at my office. This is much faster than some of the competitor companies, which may take up to four weeks to fulfil their orders. I ordered a waistcoat with the suit but it appears they decided to send it separately.

Suit fit

Suit fit

The jacket was cut a little too wide in the chest and shoulders. The sleeves are slightly too long by about a centimetre, despite my instructions to the tailors. However, the trousers fit excellently and I am very pleased with the cut, which is better than some trousers I’ve paid two or three times the price for.

I believe the jacket will need a little work on future orders. I would have liked the shoulders to be about 1cm smaller on each side and the chest to be about 2cm smaller. The sleeves could have also been shortened by an extra 1cm.

A split V at the back of the trousers

A split V at the back of the trousers

It’s nice to see some of the details which I requested from the tailors. Again, these options are not available on the standard order form and I had to ask for them specifically. However, I was able to customise my lapels to 3.5 inches, request a lower buttoning point and ask for a split at the back of the trousers. The detailing is done very nicely.

The stitching behind the padded lapel. The padded lapel is not a standard option and needs to be arranged separately via email.

The stitching behind the padded lapel. The padded lapel is not a standard option and needs to be arranged separately via email.

Pick stiching on pocket

Pick stitching on pockets. I requested them to be slightly larger than usual.

Kissing buttons

Kissing buttons on the sleeves. Unfortunately, the cloth was too fine for the buttons to line up properly. The stitching is slightly messy but I cannot complain too much for the price.

image

Piping detail around the pockets

The lining is made of a polyester fabric rather than a more expensive bemberg or silk which may “breathe” better but such features are often only found on suits twice the price. The wool is soft, light and ideal for an Australian summer. For under $300 USD, the fabrics that Aperry offer are an excellent value proposition.

THE VERDICT

Not for everyone, there are language barriers and potential for confusion if order is wrong. The fabric and construction is good value for the price and exceeds anything else for the price. Nobody is going to be upset if I spilled wine or steak sauce on the trousers at lunch.

While the fabric isn’t anything amazing and the fit could do with some refinement, the suit itself is very good for the price as long as you are specific with your requests and are able to communicate it to the tailors. It is always difficult to get everything right on the first try but the people at Matthew Aperry seem to work very hard to deliver a satisfactory product within a low budget and with remarkable turnaround time.

Make no mistake, this is not going to be a bespoke suit and it’s no substitute for getting measured in person by an experienced tailor and having something made specifically for you with multiple fittings. However, it occupies its own position in the hierarchy of online made to measure clothing and it certainly holds its own against competitors who charge double or triple the price for a similar or inferior quality product. Especially in Sydney where there are far and few tailoring options for cash-strapped students, graduates or people who just don’t have all that much money to spend on a suit, places like Matthew Aperry can be a good option assuming you get properly measured and you spend a little on post-delivery tailoring.

For under $300 bucks, I really find it difficult to fault this company.

They can be found at http://www.matthewaperry.com/

PS: I’ll review the waistcoat when I receive it. And no, I did not receive a free suit from this. Not at all.