Technology and innovation have done so much to enable progress in our society, but in many cases, so-called “advances” have actually set us back in terms of cost, effectiveness, and quality.
So what things in our lives that are driven by technology or innovation are worth a second look? The trouble is that for many things, it’s not always easy to find out or experience how things were done before technology “fixed” them. It’s hard to know what you might be missing.
Here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, finding products worthy of your long-term investment is a passion of ours. Today’s list includes a series of products and activities that are really best the old fashioned way. Not only do they lead to better results, but you can usually help you save some money along the way.
If you are not familiar with them, clothing brushes look like a hairbrush, with or without the handle. The bristles are usually stiff and dense, and you’ve seen them used by valets in period dramas to clean off the resident aristocrat’s evening jacket before he heads down to dinner. The modern equivalent of a clothes brush is the lint roller, which is usually a roll of disposable masking tape sheets that you roll across the surface of your clothes. While it’s better than using an actual piece of tape to remove lint, this innovation has a few distinct disadvantages when compared with its longstanding predecessor:
- The rollers tend to be large and inflexible, so they are difficult to navigate into corners and over 3-dimensional surfaces
- Tape rollers only remove surface lint that can be picked up with the sticky tape; they don’t reach under the fibers to release trapped lint, fuzz, and especially dust the way clothing brushes do
- Disposable sheets don’t last long, they end up in landfills, and they require frequent repurchasing when a clothing brush is a one-time investment
- They are awkward, if not impossible, to use on other items that might need cleanings, such as shoes, hats, and bags. Clothing brushes easily fit the contours and creases of all these items.
We highly recommend clothing brushes as a less expensive, more effective alternative to modern lint rollers. It’s nice to have two on hand, one specifically for clothes and the other for shoes.
Natural Clothing Materials
With the exception of athletic wear and underwear, there are very few garments in a classic men’s wardrobe that have been improved in terms of performance by synthetic fibers. The most direct benefit to consumers of synthetic fibers is a reduction in the cost of the end garment, and in some cases, an increase in comfort. That being said, natural fibers generally last longer, hold their shape better, look better, and cover the full range of functionality that most stylish men need in their wardrobe:
- Warmth: For warmth, wool, alpaca, silk, down, fur and cashmere can’t be beaten. Cashmere and alpaca are extremely soft fibers, and alpaca even has a hollow core that makes it an exceptionally good insulator. Wool is extremely durable, renewable, and naturally breathable so it keeps you warm, even in damp environments. Early explorers to Everest and the South Pole did so with only cotton, wool, and fur.
- Cool or breathable: In the summer, natural cotton and linen are prized for their cool and breathable properties. Both can be woven in an open weave, allowing air to circulate between your skin and the fabric. Linen, in particular, is a poor conductor of heat, making it ideal for classic men’s summer garments.
- Durability: Natural materials tend to be more resistant to wear, such as stretching and piling, if they are well cared for. They may require a bit of extra work to clean, but if you look in a local vintage store, it’s clear to see that natural materials age better than synthetic ones. Just compare a wool suit from the 40’s with one from the 70’s or 80’s and the difference will be clear. Natural materials can also be more easily repaired if the are unwoven or torn. Check out our Wardrobe Maintenance Essentials for more details.
- Appearance: Natural fibers, in most cases, just look nicer than synthetic ones. Since natural materials are often heavier than synthetic materials, they drape more nicely over the body and create fewer wrinkles. They also cling less to problem areas you might want to hide. Furthermore, rich textures of traditional materials like silk velvet, cotton corduroy, and wool tweed are simply bringing out the natural beauty and versatility of the original material.
Suspenders or Braces
Do you own a pair of suspenders or braces? Even the most dapper of men might not find themselves owning a pair of suspenders unless they went out looking for them. They may no longer be a mainstream men’s accessory, but there are absolutely situations in which braces are the better choice compared to belts. First of all, belts hold up your pants (and keep shirts tucked in) by compressing the waist. The obvious downside is that a belt will squeeze your waistline, and this can accentuate love handles as well as being a bit uncomfortable. Braces are traditionally worn with higher-rise pants that have special buttons, and since the weight is carried on your shoulders, the cut of the trousers can be wider than regular pants. This provides a smooth look as well as more comfort for the wearer.
There are some outfits for which suspenders should always be the default accessory. White tie, morning dress, black tie, and three-piece suits should be worn with braces. A belt should never be worn with a vest, as the vest and the belt interact awkwardly.
Plastic and metal hangers are cheap and save space in your closet, but that is the extent of their virtues. In every other respect, plastic and wooden hangers suck. They stretch shoulders, clothes fall off them, and they get endlessly tangled up in your closet. If you care about your clothes, make every effort to buy high-quality hangers that help preserve the life of your wardrobe investments.
Simply put, a real fountain pen is far more sophisticated than a ball point pen from the dentist. The resulting script is smooth, elegant, and bold. Carrying one will not only set you apart from your peers, it will show just how seriously you take putting together a complete look.
Computers, phones and social media are where great pictures go to die and never be seen again. To actually preserve and appreciate memories, they need to be visible. You don’t need to print out a pack of 4×6’s at the local drugstore to do this; these days photo book services abound and all you need to do is upload your favorite snaps directly from your computer. Don’t let the pictures of your best friend’s wedding, your guy’s trip to the Boundary Waters, or your Australian outback adventure languish in a folder titled “DCIM 23404” when they could be on your coffee table for you to enjoy.
Cast Iron for Cooking
It’s amazing that Teflon became so popular when cast iron, the original non-stick cooking material, already did a fantastic job. Sure, cast iron is a heavy beast of a pan, but it is recommended that people avoid overheating Teflon, breathing fumes from hot Teflon, and consuming foods from chipped Teflon pans. Replacing chipped or scratched pans can mean spending money on a replacement every year or two.
Cast iron is naturally non-stick when seasoned and can be heated to wicked-hot temperatures to sear a steak without any health risks. Not only that, but you’ll only need to buy one inexpensive cast iron pan because they are practically indestructible.
Getting Dressed To Go in Public
These days, “getting dressed” is merely the act of putting clothes on one’s body. It can mean anything from a tuxedo to sweat pants, and there seems to be almost no bottom limit in terms of the casual attire people will wear in public. If you take pride in your style, your appearance, and your standards, we would argue that getting properly dressed when you leave the house should always be the goal. There’s not really a good excuse not to – it takes just as much time to throw on a polo, chinos, and boat shoes as it does to put on a t-shirt, track pants and trainers. It may be old fashioned, but really getting dressed when you leave the house will speak volumes about the standards you hold yourself to.
There are certain situations in which real handwritten correspondence is still the standard. For condolences and thank yous, don’t turn to Facebook, text messages or even phone calls. The occasion demands a personally written response from you, 5 minutes of your time, your fountain pen, and a stamp.
Having Difficult Conversations in Person
Once again, modern technology has allowed us to cop out of many awkward and uncomfortable situations but eliminating what makes them so difficult – being confronted directly with another person’s feelings. You may have to fire an employee, break up with a girlfriend, or confront a friend who has been a jerk. It’s all too easy to avoid these tasks if you want to, but a real gentleman isn’t afraid to do the difficult things that need to be done. Meet them in person, calmly explain what you have to say, and give them the opportunity to respond. It’s your way of showing you take the situation, and the other person, seriously. It also acts as a check on your own actions; if you have to do it in person, you’ll probably take more time to consider the impact of your words.
Hosting a Dinner Party
Technology may improve our ability to stay connected, but it also has the unfortunate tendency to create distance. For instance, wouldn’t you rather hear about your buddy’s promotion over drinks, rather than over Facebook or text message? There is usually much more to the story than “I got a promotion.”
Dinner parties are an old-fashioned, yet eminently useful tool for getting people together and promoting two of the most important things human beings do: have meaningful conversations and eat. They show your friends that you’re willing to take the time and effort to host them. It’s also an opportunity to bring new people together in a relaxed, private, and comfortable environment. Check out our guide to hosting Dinner Parties here.
Using a Real Camera
Phones may take great pictures these days, but if you want photos worthy of framing, resizing, and printing, it’s best to use a real camera. When we say a real camera, we don’t mean a point-and-shoot style mini-camera, we mean the real kind that comes with exchangeable lenses and settings that you can adjust manually. A real camera will force you to learn the fundamentals of photography, which is a skill that will serve you well for a lifetime. And, it will make you a better photographer with your phone as well.
We’ve written extensively about wet shaving, so it probably won’t surprise you that we’re big advocates of the traditional safety razor or straight razor shave. The modern razor industry managed to improve the convenience of shaving (and their profits), but the real loser is the quality of the shave. A wet shave is far better than any disposable or electric razor can produce, and once you’ve mastered the technique, it can be done in 10 minutes or less. You can even cheat a little bit by starting with an electric razor, removing the bulk of the hair, and then finishing with a single pass of a DE razor. To read up more about wet shaving, check out our shaving series.
Taking Notes by Hand
Interestingly, several studies have shown that taking notes by hand with a pen and paper can increase the long-term comprehension over taking notes with a laptop. A laptop enables more verbatim transcription (and distraction!), while hand-writing notes require the note taker to listen more closely and distill the information into smaller, more memorable concepts. Next time you’re at a lecture or presentation, try switching to physical note-taking to see if you get more out of it.
Good Old Fashioned Thrift
Though this list is packed with things our grandparents did, there is a lot to admire about how their generation did things. They used every last drop of product in the bottle, rarely used disposable products, and didn’t throw away something that still had a bit of life left in it. In short, when they spent money, they expected to get every penny of value from that purchase. Modern technology has pushed down the prices of many of these goods while increasing the supply of them, and it’s easy to take things for granted. You can buy a new suit at H&M for $100 when it might have cost your grandpa a quarter of his monthly salary to buy one.
Even if you don’t have to watch your pocketbook, there is a lot of value in good old-fashioned thrift. You live life making very considered purchases, you produce less waste and I’m willing to bet you are happier with the things you do spend money on. Thrift also helps you create new skills, such as finding new ways to get more out of what you already have, such as your wardrobe.
Buying for Quality, Not Quantity
That brings us, finally, to buying for quality and not quantity. It’s directly tied with “good old fashioned thrift” because the focus is on getting the value out of products rather than simply buying for the gratification of having something new. Our grandparent’s generation expected things to last, and you should too. It takes a bit more time and research, but almost all of the things on this list represent ways you can put quality, durability, and longevity first in your purchases.
What ways do you think things are better done the old fashioned way?