Welcome back to the Gentleman’s Gazette! In today’s video interview, I speak with Pedro Mendes, who is from Toronto. He has Portuguese roots, he loves radio, soccer and men’s clothing. He is the mastermind behind the Hogtown Rake, which is a personal style approach to people in Toronto. Pedro, welcome!
Pedro Mendes: Hello Raphael! Thanks for having me on!
Sven Raphael Schneider: Of course! I like that you have a very different approach to things and just for our readers, listeners and viewers to get to know you a little better, tell us more about yourself.
PM: Okay, 25 words or less type of thing. Well, I’m a men’s style writer/journalist/consultant and I spent about 13 years of my career at the CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation here in Canada, the national broadcaster. I worked there as a producer, mostly behind the scenes although I did do some posting on air, on radio and a little bit on television. About 10 years ago, I became very interested in modern masculinity, what it means to be a grown up which led me to my wardrobe, which led me to classic style. A couple of years ago, I realized that this was more than a hobby or a passion that I could combine my career as a journalist with my passion and I left the CBC to embark on a career, a freelance career as a journalist in this world and that’s where I’ve been.
SRS: That’s very, very exciting. So, I read that you really like soccer, and obviously, radio has been a big part of your life. How did you come from radio to men’s style? Was there a particular point in time or how did you get there?
PM: There is actually one specific moment which was soon after I became a father, I was holding my son, trying to get him to sleep and he’s looking up at me in a way that babies do where it seems as if they’re looking into your soul and I realized that this would be..that I would be his model for the rest of his life, I would be his role model or what it means to be a man, a grown up, whatever, however you want to identify it. But at that point, I really did not know what that meant. What does it mean to be a grown man in this day and age? So, I started looking at all these different aspects of my life, because I was in radio because I had access as a producer and as a host, I started doing radio series about my journey. My journey of you know, partially, self-discovery but also about what’s happening right now about a whole generation who are asking themselves these kinds of questions. I just sort of turned my lens, my microphone to every aspect of my life, whether it was my relationships, my hobbies, my skills and eventually, of course, it fell to my wardrobe. I’d always been interested in dressing well, but I really did not have the knowledge or guidance, but I guess I really didn’t have the inspiration. Having a young son was finally that inspiration to get myself out of my adolescence and move into adulthood and then from then it’s just, it’s been more discovery and constant. I mean you know what this is like, you go through these rounds of.. you look into something, you kind of figure, you think okay, I think I’ve figured this out, and you realize that’s only one layer.
SRS: Exactly! There’s so much more to it, and you can always dig deeper, and I think, you know when you become a father, you also look back and look at “Oh, what did I learn from my father and how did I learn?” and you realize things that may be you did not think about before. How did your father influence your style, what kind of role model was he for you?
PM: Well, my father immigrated here to Canada in late 60’s, a few years before I was born. At the time, I know this from photos, he was always well-dressed. The classic 60’s sort of slim suits, they were custom-made, he did not have a lot of money when he was in Portugal but the little money that he had, he would put it into getting one or two nice pieces of clothes and so they came to Canada and like most Europeans at the time, they would go out my dad would put on a suit, my mom would dress up and do her makeup and they went out into the streets of Toronto, and nobody was dressed like that, here. It was very, very casual compared to what it was in Europe. When they didn’t want to appear as outsiders, as obvious new immigrants, so they pretty much abandoned that stuff. By the time I was born, my dad was just wearing rack wear, he was wearing jeans and polo shirts and he would wear the occasional suit to a special event or to church on Sundays, but he certainly didn’t impose or pass on.. because I didn’t see it, I didn’t see it day by day. I do remember the day that I turned 20, I was wearing a grateful dead t-shirt and jeans and my dad said “You know, I think it’s time that you start dressing like a grown man”, at the time I was like “Whatever!” but of course, I didn’t have necessarily an example, especially not the way I look at it, the way I think of it now.
SRS: So, what did you look like before you basically jumped on the train to classic men’s style?
PM: I have worn ties, and I had suits in my wardrobe since I was a teenager but without really knowing what I was doing. There was a severe lack of elegance, a severe lack of subtlety, you know, knowledgeable restraint, let’s say, and I mean, it was just far more casual. Like when I started at the CBC, this is going on 15-16 years ago, at the time, I did have blue jeans in my wardrobe. As a soccer fan, I wore a lot of soccer jerseys but in a way, what hasn;t changed is that I was wearing my identity, and I knew I was wearing my identity. My identity at the time was different, at the time, I also did a lot of cosplay which is the Anime costume conventions. I would go on a dress up as some of my favorite characters.
SRS: Oh, wow! I’ve only seen them in person in Asia, in Singapore, there was a convention and all of a sudden, you saw all of these like super figures and heroes. One thing I noticed about you, you’re always very enthusiastic, and when I ask about your job, you don’t just say one thing but a number of things. Tell us more about the projects you’ve worked on in the past?
PM: So like I said, it all started in the CBC where I did a couple of radio series about modern masculinity and then I followed that up with another series that was more about style and skills and so on. What came out of that was a lot of men coming up to me and saying “I really appreciate that, I wish there were more opportunities for people to learn about these things” I’d love to learn more about..you know I did one 4-5 minute radio piece about shaving, about traditional wet shaving and had all these men contacting me and saying “Where can I buy these and how can I learn more about it?” and I say to myself “Have you not heard of Google?” but anyway, I thought, I realized that when it comes to a lot of these things, a lot of people do want a personal touch, they want to be able to see it happen in person, they want to ask questions, they want to interact in some way and so I think I did my first class about four years ago with a local friend who runs a men’s vintage store, we did a couple of classes, we did a building wardrobe class, we did a class on traditional saving, I did the safety razor, he did the straight razor and we had an excellent turnout, like 25 guys, you know who bought tickets and came to these events and wanted to watch other men shave but I realized that there was this movement that was happening, this interest. So, again, last year, I did another series, a small group contacted me because they deal with young entrepreneurs, and I said it will be really great to teach that group of people because they’re learning about how to put together a business proposal but they don’t really know how to put themselves together. Then, I did a course on wardrobe, I did a course on shoe care, and I really, really enjoyed them, and I realized that I do have a passion for talking to people and sharing this with people so that always sits there as something that I can do should the opportunity come up but I also realized it’s a very, very big job to put something like that together.
SRS: A lot of work, right?
PM: It’s an enormous amount of work, planning, tickets and preparations so on and so forth. There was a time when I thought to myself, could that be what I’m going to do with myself? But again, I always kept coming back to the writing and the stories and the ideas, especially because when I left the CBC, I kind of dabbled in the world of being a stylist and I realized that unless the person is interested in dressing exactly like me, I can’t really, I’m not going to give you advice on which hoodie you should wear with which you know… jean jacket..When it comes to contemporary brands and trends, and so on and so forth, I’m just not interested, it’s not something that I do. I can appreciate certain things from afar so I realized that wasn’t…
SRS: It’s good to know what doesn’t work. So, what projects are you working on at the moment then?
PM: One of the big projects that I’m working on that I started well over a year ago, I’m writing a book on Canada’s oldest tailor.
PM: Yes, it’s a fantastic project that I couldn’t have dreamed of a couple of years ago but partially because I found the idea of a book so daunting but what I’ve done is I carved it up into a bunch of pieces, and then you put it together, and it’s a book. What’s interesting about this tailor is that their history has intersected with the history of Toronto and with the history of Canada in so many ways. They were a military tailor as well as a civilian tailor, so there’s a lot of stories from World War I, World War II, from all the time in between until today. They made uniforms for the very first transit workers in the city, all the way up to Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken,t hey made his white double-breasted suits in the 1970’s when he lived in Canada for a while.
SRS: Do they still have those? Do they have a trial suit or a return of something of that?
PM: Well, here’s part of the issue, they didn’t keep very much of their history, they didn’t keep very many photos, they didn’t keep many records. Like the city of Toronto, the value of their own history, it didn’t seem relevant. Toronto is notorious for knocking down all of our buildings for destroying entire districts for the sake of progress, for the sake of modernity and this company, unlike for instance, many tailors on Savile row, will have their paper patterns and especially, their ledgers of customers stretching back hundreds of years, this company didn’t keep almost anything so my job as a writer is also an enormous amount of research because for instance, the owner told me “My father said that we used to do the uniforms for the transit workers” so I have to dig in there, and I have to go into the archives until I finally found the agreement that was kept by the TTC in 1921 for workers’ uniforms and there’s his grandfather’s signature.
SRS: You know, in preparing for this interview, I looked at a lot of pictures of you, and I noticed that you like wearing hats. Why is that?
PM: Well, the hat thing definitely goes back to when I was a kid. I’ve always been interested and obsessed with the 1930’s and 40’s, old time radio ever since I was a very, very, little kid. It was Sunday night in Toronto on a radio station, theater of the mind, and old television, especially the Twilight Zone, old movies and I always found hats so elegant but of course, growing up, there really wasn’t you know, I will hold my hand up and say I was that teenager in a t-shirt and a fedora and a trench coat, thinking that I looked cool but I absolutely did not, mostly because again, how I was wearing the fedora and the quality of the hat and then a few years ago, I happened to hear about a hatmaker here in Toronto, the company’s name is Leon Drexler. I couldn’t believe right here in Toronto, there is a hatmaker and then at the time, I was really starting to get to know this industry, and I was at the CBC and I contacted him and said I would like to do an interview, radio interview about his company and why because it’s unusual that somebody does this in this day and age. Met him and discovered that we had a lot in common when it came to not just things sartorial but our love of cigars and wine, etc. We’ve since become very good friends, and he’s made me a number of hats now but from him, from that first experience, I learned that I believe many, many men do not wear hats because the hats that they try on have very poor quality and do not fit, and so they assume “Oh, I just don’t look good in hats!”
SRS: Same with suits, right? If you wear like a suit that cost a hundred dollars, new and it’s uncomfortable, you may easily think “Oh, I don’t like suits, they’re uncomfortable” but you just don’t know what’s out there.
PM: I mean, I think with suits and even with dress shoes, people still wear them because they are still worn. Very, very, few men wear hats. So with suits, even though a guy may not like it, it may not fit, he doesn’t know anything about it, he feels that he has to wear one for whatever reasons. When I had that first experience with Steven because I got a hat made for the radio piece and he sat down with me, and he looked at not only the size of my head, the shape of my head, my shoulders, my stance, the clothes that I wear, my wardrobe, my overcoat, he took all these things into consideration. It was like a holistic approach to one hat, and when I started wearing that hat, I never had a moment where somebody said “Oh, you’re wearing a hat!” instead they said, “That’s a nice hat!”
SRS: SO, do you smoke cigars?
PM: Yes, I do.
SRS: How many would you smoke a month, would you say?
PM: I would say, it varies. In the summer, maybe it’s a couple a week. In the winter, maybe a couple a month.
SRS: It’s cold in Toronto in the winter, so I can see that.
PM: Very cold, so there isn’t much smoking in the winter because I do not smoke indoors but in the summer, when the weather is nice enough maybe one or two every week.
SRS: That’s nice! Do you kind of pair it usually with some spirits or some port or Madeira?
PM: Yeah, I have my favorite pairings, and they’re usually seasonal. You know, I find that in the colder months, I go towards Port and scotch. In the warmer months, it’s much lighter, refreshing drinks whether it’s mojito or daiquiris or whatever. Recently I’ve discovered how good Port wine can be.
SRS: It seems that you like mature and aged things, the port and the cigars, how would you say does that translate to wardrobe items? What items would you say get better with age?
PM: Well, definitely shoes. There’s no question that I see the relationship, I see a very close relationship between tobacco, wine, and leather in terms of the preparation, the process that they pass through, obviously the sensual aspects, whether it’s the color or the smell, the feel to a certain extent. Almost every cigar I’ve ever smoked in my life has had at least one hint of leather to it but the way that leather ages, quality leather, the way that it ages, and this is in a sense the greatest problem with the state of, I would say one of the problems of the state of men’s wear today, is that we have a generation of people newly discovering something that isn’t as good as it will be a few years from now. For instance, they’ll buy a brand new pair of shoes, and they’ll be disturbed that they’re starting to crease, they’re starting to wear as opposed to you know, in five to ten years, that’s when that’s really going to come to life, much like for instance, if you go to Cuba and buy a brand new cigar, you know what? You are actually going to have to put that in your humidor for at least two to three years, if not five. You get the full enjoyment out of that. In our culture, it’s very much about appreciating something we wanted now. Instant gratification.
SRS: What are the things that you read, like not necessarily clothing related but in general?
SRS: Bookmarks. (laughs)
PM: I still visit put this on, every once in a while there’s a great article about a classic piece on there and then just, you know I actually find a lot of stuff via social media whether it’s Instagram, whether it’s Twitter and articles that people have posted.
SRS: Knowing what you know today, what are the hallmarks of a well-dressed man?
PM: I guess the fundamental one is intention. That I can see that the person has clearly chosen to do what they’re doing and clearly thought about every piece and how they relate to each other, how they relate to the individual and how they relate to the occasion. Dressing for the occasion is very big for me, huge for me and partially because we’ve lost sense of occasion.
SRS: But if you think about it, it makes sense, right? I mean, people ask “What’s the best?” and we got to take a step back where you ask what’s the purpose? You cannot say this is the best for everything; that doesn’t exist.
PM: And you know, for instance, the best way to dress is arguably black tie, but it’s not appropriate for every situation, at all. The tie itself is not necessarily appropriate for every situation, and I regularly go camping, backwoods camping with my family and you know, I dress appropriately to the occasion, and when you’re used to that in certain things, I just try to apply that to every aspect of my life.
SRS: Let’s say we talked about casual outfits, what would you say are good, casual items that are not jackets, suits, or ties?
PM: Well, I’ve become a big fan of very high-quality polo shirts.
SRS: So, who would that be for you? What brand would provide that for you?
PM: It’s not a brand per se. It’s more about a certain kind of cut, a certain kind of style. For instance, the very typical polo shirts, whether short sleeve or long sleeve has a ribbed collar whereas the shirts that I’ve grown to love, it’s the same fabric, it’s the same shirting and the collar in fact, is cut more like, maybe it’s a spread collar or a simple point collar and the cuffs are constructed more like a regular shirt. It adds just a little sharpness to it, a little smartness to what is otherwise a very casual, sporty shirt. Even sport shirts themselves, especially in the summer, the button-down shirt is a very big thing for me, but then again, there’s a continuum between them and polo shirts. Pop over shirts, that one’s like a hybrid of a polo shirt and dress shirt. When it comes to trousers, pretty much khakis, chinos of various colors, I do not own blue jeans.
SRS: So, what would you say, on the flip side, are the things that you would say are one of the best investments to your wardrobe?
PM: Well, again, it comes down to shoes.I have a couple of pairs of shoes, I have a pair of Crockett & Jones boots, some Allen Edmonds Brogues, as well as some tassel loafers that are just very, very well-constructed shoes. I have a pair of custom shoes that I know are going to last for a very long time. Lately, I’ve been commissioning a lot of custom shirts, and I think it’s something that maybe people think of as sort of one of the last because you don’t really see much of it necessarily, it doesn’t seem that important, there’s not as much construction as with the jacket, not as obvious but it’s actually in a way, quite tricky to get a shirt absolutely right because you don’t have those other things to work with. You really only have the fabric, and when you find an excellent shirt, it can be not only comfortable but so flattering for just a simple piece. I’ve been very proud of my hats, my hats from Stephen are pieces that, you know, they just keep getting better and better with every season.
SRS: So, how would you define Canadian style?
PM: Well, unfortunately, it’s really not possible to define Canadian. I don’t think, it’s like Canadian culture in general, we define ourselves by what we aren’t. We don’t have a very specific cuisine, we don’t have a specific dress style. In so many ways, like all popular culture, it’s connected to the United States, it’s connected very strongly to England, to Britain, but it’s not, it’s neither those things exactly, nor it’s so completely different or something completely else. So when it comes to style, you know, basically, you would think after all these years of immigrant populations coming here, we would have taken something, we would have melded them into something, whether it’s because you know, we had waves of Irish tailors, Jewish, Polish, Italian and still it was a sort of a bland, vaguely British cut. for many years amongst the businessmen. We didn’t have the Ivy League, we didn’t have the Brooks Brother sack suit or any of that stuff but at least had a personality, a unique characteristic. We don’t have any of those things. Hopefully, something will develop, something global that nobody else has because everyone else has their individual localized but as of now, the best I can say is that we take a little bit of everything.
SRS: And make it your own, that’s a fair approach. So, one thing we do, we ask everyone a certain amount for he same questions, just very quick answers or you can elaborate, whatever you want. So, Oxfords or Derbys?
PM: Well, always for me, flannel in the winter and the worsteds are the fall, spring.
SRS: Necktie or Bow tie?
PM: I’d say it’s probably 75% necktie, but I love me a good bow tie.
SRS: Belt or suspenders?
PM: Again depends on the trousers. Most of my trousers are with suspenders, high-rise, and they just fall better, but I have a fair number of casual trousers, I wear belts.
SRS: French cuff or Barrel cuff?
PM: Again, depends on the shirt. A lot of my day to day shirts are just regular barrel cuffs, but I have a few of my sort of dressier shirts, I’m experimenting now where I’m getting single cuff shirts.
PM: Always undershirts.
SRS: What kind of undershirt do you wear? Like the cutouts or do you wear the v-necks or..
PM: Depends on the shirt, if I’m wearing a shirt open neck, I always wear a v-neck but if I’m wearing a tie, then it’s a crew neck.
SRS: Off the rack or bespoke?
PM: It really depends on the individual item, the individual garment and what it is that I’m going after. I would love to have almost everything made custom, but it’s not always possible but certain things, I don’t think it makes sense to have them made custom so, it’s really a blend of the two.
SRS: Alright, awesome. Thank you very much. Thanks for being on the show and I’m sure that was very insightful, I enjoyed very much and all the best to you, and if you haven’t been there, check out the Hogtownrake, it really isn’t just about Toronto but about the things Pedro mentioned where he talks about the intention of dressing and he also discusses shoe repair or how to iron a shirt and it’s overall a very well-made blog, and it’s very intentional, like you approach things in a way that make you think about it, and I like that.
PM: Thank you, Raphael. I appreciate your words, but I appreciate asking to be on and talk to you because I’ve known you for a couple of years and respect what you do and flattered that you would have me on.
SRS: Anytime, Pedro. Thank you.
PM: Oh, anytime? I have next Tuesday, can we do it again? (laughs)