Some of the most frequent kinds of questions ManMade receives are inquiries like, "I just graduated college and finally have a real income and I'd like to start investing in some long-lasting goods..." or "my fiancée's birthday is coming up, and I'd like to buy him something every guy should have..." In 2013, I've been giving my take on those essential items, offering a new collection of ten each season: winter,spring, summer, and fall. Some of these you might already own, some of these you might need to upgrade to a quality version, and most of these apply to women and households too. Please let me know what you think, and what you'd add or take away in the comments below.
1. A go-to sport coat: [pictured at top] Fall is the season of layers, and the best way to layer like you know what you're doing? Go for a sport coat. It adds a sense of dressiness without actually having to, you know, dress up. Plus, it'll keep you warm when out in the fall chill. By sport coat, I don't mean a navy blazer with flashy gold button, but a solid wool (or cotton) jacket with some texture. The "sport" in sport coat refers to old style English hunting trips with hounds and cool hats and such. So, a sport coat - that is, a jacket with lapels worn with non-matching pants - maintains that sense of movability, with a rustic, earthy feel. Sounds like fall to me. I particularly like the option of a sport coat as a jacket because it gives you flexibility. Wear one with some dark jeans on a Friday night with your sweetheart or to a dinner party where you're not quite sure what your company will be. If you feel overdressed, just take it off, and roll up your sleeves. Man, I love fall. For more, check out the ManMade style section.
2. A waiter's corkscrew: I'm not the kind of person who starts sentences with "there are two kinds of people in the world..." but there is definitely a dichotomy between those of us who have worked in the food service industry and those who haven't. I spent most of high school and college in restaurants, theaters, and kitchens, and I learned a ton of valuable knowledge that I'm incredibly grateful for. One of the top? The power of the waiter's corkscrew. I don't know why anyone would ever try to open a bottle with anything else. My mom has, like, twelve different wine opening contraptions, some of which cost well over $50, and none of them work half as well as one of these. Two things to look for that make it a waiter's-style, rather than just a foldable corkscrew: the built-in knife for cutting the foil, and the double hinge on the lever. It allows you to open a bottle using a single hand. Plus, it's got a killer bottle opener, and it fits in your pocket so you can keep it on your during a party or barbecue. Even if you don't drink wine or beer at all, this is absolutely one of those things every man, and every household, should have. All sorts of things come in bottles. Don't ever spend more than $6-7 on one of these guys; skip the fancy wine shop, and snag two or three at the restaurant supply store for a mere five bones. For more, check out the ManMade Essential Kitchen: The 15 Tools Every Man Needs to Cook Like a Pro
3. A keepsake box (that you clean out regularly): This one is sorta hard to title, but remember when you were a kid, and you had that old lunch box or foot locker or whatever you used to keep your switchblade combs and chattering teeth and broken action figure parts? I'm talking about that thing. It's that place where you stash, you know, your goodies of old; those things you know you won't use regularly, but are a part of you anyway.
We always called them "special boxes" but they go by keepsakes, memory chests, and the like. What's in mine? Things like the four cassette tapes I just can't get rid of (all mixtapes or recordings from bands I was in), a rubber gorilla mask, some old note and sketchbooks, a five foot inflatable baseball bat, my grandfather's pocket knives, a Batman can coozie I exchanged with Skeeball tickets, little stocking stuffers and some Advent calendar magic tricks, my commemorative VHS tape from Space Camp, prayer cards and dried flowers from funeral arrangements, and my college and graduate degree diplomas. (What? Was I supposed frame them?) You know, that kind of stuff. There are two tricks to this guy, to watch your clutter and to make sure you hold on to memories, not to things:
- Pick a box and stick to it. The size can be up to you, as long as you have a place to store it. But that's your space for this kind of stuff, and you only get one.
- You have to get into the top of the closet or the attic and open it at least once a year, and preferably clean out a few items. Hopefully, you'll have new goodies to add, so go for a one-in, one-out policy.
4. A sturdy and accurate hand saw: Look, I own lots of saws. Many with plenty of horsepower. But, they're tools I use for my job, and while I would prefer everyone in the world have a table saw and a band saw and a compound miter saw and a handheld jig saw and a circular saw and a...., I realize that can be overkill for some guys. But, sooner a later, a man's gonna have to cut some wood. So, a hand saw.
If I could only have one, I'd get a Japanese-style saw known as a ryōba (両刃): it's a pull-saw, meaning that it cuts on the back stroke rather than the push. It features two cutting edges: one for making rip cuts with the grain, and one for making cross cuts against it. They're extremely accurate, and even with a whole shop full of power tools, I use one regularly for all sorts of tasks. They're a whole lot of saw for less than $50, and while they're not as quick as table saw, they can produce just as fine a cut. Coupled with a coping saw for making curved cuts, you do a whole heap of ManMade-style projects for just a bit of money.
5. A valid passport: A good man is one who never stops learning, and new experiences and seeing new places are an essential part of growth. You never know when international travel might be an option - a work trip, a service project, a cool opportunity - and the processing time on the right documents can take weeks. So we say: always make sure yours is up-to-date, so when the chance springs up, you're ready to go.
Also, be sure to stay current on your immunizations. They're a great form of "travel insurance" that'll keep you safe, and they can take a few months to go through the whole course. Oh, and while I'm at it, always make sure you're up-to-date on a tetanus shot. You can get 'em at the drug store now, so no excuses.
6. A pair of straight leg dark jeans: Want to instantly appear a little dressier without having to actual put on proper trousers and monk strap shoes and the whole thing? Go for a pair of dark jeans. They're jeans, see, but they're dark and solid, and give off a sense of polish. If you come from the old school where jeans are workwear and never appropriate for professional situations, think of them rather as denim pants. Straight leg jeans have a cut that's very similar to dress trousers, but with a more rustic texture. They're a great in-between option that cause dress up or down, and pair well with a sport coat. That combo with a button-up (tucked in, off course) and a great pair of leather boots will look much more classy than the business casual of khakis and a polo shirt. Promise. For more, check out the ManMade style section. [Pictured: Flint and Tinder Valor Jean]
7. An outdoor thing: Bear with me on the title here, I'll explain.
One of the best thing about fall and this time of year is that it reminds us of how active our biological systems actually are: seeing the trees changing or feel the air moving towards crispness instills a sense of respect, of awe at how functional and efficient our planet can be. And I think every man needs a way to access it, and a commitment to witness it. I've hinted at the idea with bicycles in spring, and a tent in summer, but this is not an appeal to every guy to become an outdoorsman or an avid camper or backpacker. This is about taking the opportunity to be moved by the things that are bigger than you, and to experience what they have to offer. It could be as simple as knowing where the local walking trails are in your city's park system, or being familiar with the state parks in your area. It could be a map of your local bike trails, or a simple date to walk somewhere with your friends or sweetheart, just for the sake of walking. It could be a weekend trip to see some local geology or preserve. It's about getting out of your house, your office, your car, the restaurants and shops, and being quiet and just noticing things. And there's nothing like the season of autumn to do it.
8. A cookbook reference library: I don't mean a bunch of slim volumes on how to use leftover rotisserie chicken or some collection of Pinterest-y desserts. I'm talking about big, thick tomes that take on entire cuisines and the art of cooking techniques in a single volume. These aren't the books you browse for dinner ideas; they're the books that you consult when you want to know the best way to deal with something you already know you're going to eat.
So, what does that look like? Well, there are the French culinary classics like Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire or "The World's Greatest Culinary Library," the Larousse Gastronomique, which focus on technique. Then, all encompassing bible-like works such as The Joy of Cooking and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, or any of the references from America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated. And, since cooking is just as much chemistry as art, there's the food science masterpiece On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. (I'm always surprised by how many people don't know about this one.) Then, add in regional reference pieces like the best selling Italian book The Silver Spoon or An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey. I'll put in a vote for Alice Water's Chez Panisse Vegetables, but the point here is clear: this is a collection of reference books, that give you the proper techniques and classic flavor combinations that are the starting point for your own creativity. The more dog-earred the better.
9. Clothing repair and shoe shine kit: On ManMade, I go on and on about the importance of buying high-quality investment pieces that will last a lifetime. And in order to maintain those investments, you'll need to do a little maintenance every once in a while. So, I'm recommending a lightweight sewing kit and a bit of shoe care gear that you can keep in an old cigar or shoe box and bust out when necessary.
What'll you need? A collection of standard sewing needles, and some white, navy, black, and brown thread. A seam ripper is an essential for clothing hacks, and a sharp pair of tailor's shears. An extra set or two of collar stays are useful, plus a button extender if you struggle on those days you have to wear a tie. For shoes, keep some brushes, a few rags, and the appropriate leather conditioners and polishes. For tips on what to do with them, check out the ManMade DIY Tailor series and our post on proper leather shoe care.
10. A slow cooker: I did not grow up in a "crock pot" family. We had one, an old avocado green job my parents got from their wedding registry. And, though I'm sure it got used, it wasn't something that characterized the food in our house. My wife's parents, on the other hand, were both doctors, and according to her, nearly every thing her mom cooked came from the slow cooker. And, says my wife, protein + a mix of canned foods = dinners, all which tasted basically the same as each other.
So, our household is a relatively new convert to the slow cooker... but: these things are awesome. Not cause they allow you to mix together a bunch of processed foods and call it a day, but because they allow you to achieve a low and slow, braise-like technique that's so essential for fall-time foods. It's the season of soups and stews and slow cooked goodness, and, with a little proper technique, can safely create all-day cooked foods without having to watch the pot. So, these are not just grandma contraptions or the mainstay of busy moms, but a real piece of cooking equipment that every guy should keep around and learn to love. This is the model we use and I definitely recommend. [Photo: Faith Durand for The Kitchn]