30 January 2010


It's funny, really. I'm what the "normal" world considers overdressed about 95% of the time, and yet, I've only worn formal wear once. My Junior prom, an occasion I've successfully pushed as far back in my mind as possible...we'll leave it at that. What I will tell you is that though I wore a piece-of-sh*t rental, I insisted on a shawl collar, and I bought my own self-tie bow...at the age of 17. But enough about that.

A while back, I stumbled across a vintage Brooks Brothers white dinner jacket, but I passed it up.Why? Because evening clothes just don't really have a place in the humble existence of your worthy writer. After all, it's one thing to wear a suit, or even a jacket and tie, when it's not required. At worst, people find you "quirky". But wearing formal wear when it isn't called for? Out of the question, even for a peacock like me. But two days ago, this piece of formality got the better of me:

A vintage shawl collar "sack" evening jacket, with with silk facing on the lapels, likely late 1950's...

from the same Brothers who trotted out the white jacket I so nobly refused last year. Damn it, it was five bucks, I couldn't help it....cut me a break.

So, what to wear it with?

If I ever get invited to a swanky party someplace revolving mainly around gin and Scotch, I'll probably match it with:

A vintage pr of mother-of-pearl "cuff snaps"...

I've had these things for a long time. They snap apart in the middle, enabling the wearer to put a half of them into in each side of the cuff, the snap it shut. I couldn't get a good photo of the fine print, but they're actually dated 1927. Oh yeah, and they're double sided. I like to imagine that they once belonged to a captain of industry, or Fred Astaire, or something. In any case, they were almost certainly last seen in the company of a silk top hat. The things you find for a buck.

And just to drive the final stylish nail, while absolutely infuriating the death-trap purists, how about some tartan pants? Imagine, if a refinished the hems without cuffs, added brace buttons, took off the belt loops, and had Mr. Lee add a black grosgrain stripe down the out seam of the legs? The results would indeed be murderous, no?

And as much as I'm generally against the affected skull and bones, a pair of velvet pirate slippers and some white silk socks would really drive this baby home.

I know, the hardcores will wail and nash their teeth at the mere suggestion of such transgressions against the Holy Church of Tuxedo. But, if I wore this rig, most of the guys at the same soiree would probably be wearing long ties, a sure sign of "not getting it".

There are worse things than a creatively "Frankenstein" monkey suit. Now all I need is for someone to invite me to some party involving plenty of oak aged brown stuff, witty repartee, and maybe a cigar on the balcony.

27 January 2010

Get Crafty

A while back Mrs. G. scored this quirky little tweed and corduroy patchwork lap blanket from the Andover Shop.
It measures about three feet square. When the boy was but a baby, we used it to bundle him up in the stroller. Now, he's well beyond such things. And my darling little girl is too much of a lady to wear such a masculine piece of cloth.
So the beautiful blanket is relegated to the status of a decorative throw over the back of a wicker chair in the house. Too small for any grown person to actually use in any way, it has been these last few years merely a decoration. That's fine, I guess. Only every time I looked at this thing I couldn't help but wish there was some way I could wear it...these little pieces of cloth really are top quality, after all.

And then it hit me...
I cut the blanket carefully in half. Then I sewed the open ends, and attached the two halves back together to create a long rectangle rather than a square, and folded it lengthwise.
Turns out, it makes a ripping good scarf that looks extraordinary with a Barbour jacket and a lambswool sweater from the House of Tweed. Best of all, it's warm as anything. Wrapped around my neck and draped across my chest, this patchwork masterpiece gave the old Barbour just the extra stuffing it needed on a clear and chilly day.

If you're going to be cheap and thrifty, it is essential that you develop an eye for possibilities, and realize that things need not always be what they are at first. It doesn't hurt knowing how to sew, either. Say you find a jacket made of a beautiful piece of glen check for a dollar or two, but it's got a little hole or two in it. Maybe you can cut enough pieces of cloth out of it to make some killer accent pillows for your sofa. Or maybe you find some crazy go-to-hell cotton pants that are way to short. Maybe they'll make a good pair of shorts come summer. Learn to see things not only for what they already are, but what they might be, given a little creativity.

Go out there and get crafty!

26 January 2010

MTM Shirts in Action: The Pink One

Of course, I couldn't wait to trot my new extravagant shirts out for all to see. Here is outfit number 1:

So what do you wear with a $75 pink shirt with a contrast collar? How about a navy flannel blazer ($3.49), an understated tie from Mr. Sid ($1.99), and an Italian silk pocket square with hand rolled edges ($0.99). Finish with a collar pin that I nabbed for a quarter about a million years ago.
Check the perfect sleeve length. 1/2 inch of shirt cuff showing, just about right.
And though it may still be a little flashy, I'm really digging the combo of two button shirt cuff with two button jacket cuff. Aw, c'mon, give me a break. This isn't nearly as affected as a working four button jacket cuff with two left undone.
Finished simply, with grey flannels and brown Florsheims. (bet you can't even spot the repair job on those trews, can ya?)

As for fit, these shirts are dead on. Perfect sleeve length. The body provides room for movement without being in the least blousey. The armhole is fitted, but not tight. It stays tucked in...all day. Sure, I may look a bit wrinkled in this photo, but that's what a shirt ought to look like after it's been worn for ten hours. "Non-Iron" cotton is for savages.

As for the collar: True, a proper "club collar" is shorter and trimmer than this one. So it's a point collar with rounded edges, if it makes the nit-pickers happy. Frankly I don't care. It fits just right, and looks well pinned, which is what I was after in the first place.

p.s....this is for Tin Tin: sleeve to yoke pattern matching on the striped jobbie is pretty damn tight, no?

25 January 2010

Made-to-Measure Shirts (sophomore outing)

A while back, I was graciously given a free Made-to Measure shirt from Deo Veritas, a Chicago based online shirt service. The shirt I had them make for me may have been a bit (dare I say it) flashy, over the top, even. What do you want from me? A greenhorn move to be sure. But honestly, I don't have any problem finding white and blue shirts that fit, so why waste the opportunity? In any case, I was very impressed by the fit, material, and construction of that shirt. So much so that I decided to blow my Christmas bonus on a couple more. They arrived today:

A tad more laid back than my first foray into Made-to-Measure, though not by much.

These two feature contrast club collars (read:rounded points),

and a two button rounded edge cuff.

I paid $150 for these two shirts. An extravagance, to be sure. But the way I figure, such are the occasional rewards of the thrifty life. In general, I disdain retail, and I buy everything second hand for incredibly low prices. The older I get, the more I see this as a way to justify an infrequent big expenditure.

Back when I reviewed my first Deo Veritas shirt, some of you expressed misgivings at the fact hat it was made in Hong Kong. Allow me to address that concern.

"Made in China" has come to be a phrase akin to a dirty word. It often means "Made in Sweatshop". True, Americans tend to consume a lot of junk at the expense of sweatshop labor, but this isn't necessarily always the case. For a better look at what I mean, read here.

Hong Kong actually has a long and revered history in the production of bespoke and hand tailored menswear. Even my nemesis can attest to this. In my thrift adventures, I have often come across serious "Trad" vintage, custom made for somebody else in Hong Kong. When these shirts arrived today, I checked the return address. Tailored Shirts Ltd. looks to be a stand up operation, if their website is any guide. Look 'em over.

The shirts are well made, and fit beautifully. They have an eighth button, preventing them form ever coming un-tucked. The fabrics, mostly made in Italy, are top notch, smooth and soft to the touch, but seemingly long wearing (I'll update you in a year). At $75 (including such superfluous peacokery as monogramming), they may not be what you would call cheap, but they certainly are within reach, for a treat. And for as much as I enjoy donning some fabulous old thing bought for a song, there is something to be said for not only being the first to wear something, but also the guy who ordered it made.

Companies like Deo Veritas and tailored Shirts Ltd. provide us normal guys with the means to spoil ourselves every now and again. Much appreciated and highly recommended.

23 January 2010

Take It Easy

As you already know, I enjoy buying, owning and wearing well made and distinctive clothing. As you may have noticed, fewer and fewer men's lives require or, dare I say it, even permit this kind of dress on any sort of regular basis these days, my own not excluded. Now this isn't to say we all need to succumb to the abject laziness of un-tucked shirts, sweat pants and un-shaved faces that is all too prevalent among the grown men of today. Conversely, dressing like a stuffy old man and constantly grousing about it is neither stylish nor cool, it's grumpy and, at best, quaint. Better to find some middle ground, even if you're version of middle leans a bit further toward your grandfather than your son.

For example: here we see a Brooks Brothers trifecta in this combination of tweed 2 button sack ($3.00), vintage repp tie ($1.00), and white oxford button down ($3.99). This combination of thick tweed, and skinny tie paired with that mystically inimitable "roll" of a Brooks Brothers collar is about as old as it gets.

Down below, rigid denim Wranglers, J. Press socks and Florsheim longwings. Now I can almost here the purist among you crying "why didn't you wear some flat front grey flannel pants?" True, the addition of grey flannels would make this outfit completely classic, almost to the point of a mid-sixties Ivy League nostalgia. So why wear the jeans? Simple: because grey flannels would have brought this outfit into the realm of mid-sixties Ivy League nostalgia.

I like these clothes, and I like to wear them. But I'm a not a student at Yale in 1965. My job far from requires that I dress this way, but still I choose to. By changing one element for casual, in this case jeans for flannels, I manage to wear these things without coming off like a pretentious jerk or a costume party joke. The same transformation can be managed by simply leaving the tie at home, or wearing a parka instead of a top-coat sometimes.

I don't want to "dress up" like 1965. I don't want to "dress up" like a Polo ad. But I will observe both these things, take what I will from them, and try to blend them, and myriad other cool things I've seen, into some unique combination of my own. You should too.

Learn from what you see, don't copy it, and above all, take it easy. It works out better that way.

20 January 2010

In Season: Winter in January

Sometimes you have to wait six months before your newest thrift find can hit the streets. Other times, you're lucky enough to dig something up you can wear tomorrow, such as:

This is a pretty good, if somewhat un-remarkable old puffy jacket, filled with "water fowl down", as the label tells me. Navy blue, nice fit, should keep me warm in the snow, not bad for $5.99. But wait, it gets better...

Brooks Brothers Brooksgate? I have never, in all my travels, seen a casual snow shoveling jacket from the Brothers, have you?

Did I mention that the sleeves zip off, converting this number into a down vest? C'mon, that's pretty cool.

And as though I didn't have enough big fat tweeds, how can I say no to a thing like this, when it costs only $6.99?

There really is no describing how heavy this thing is. I have overcoats that weigh less. Too bad I don't go shooting those same water fowl that filled the other jacket... in the drizzle...in England...with a flask full of single malt in one pocket...by the lake at the bottom of the hill behind the "main house'...I digress, forgive me.
Here's a close-up shot to give you a better idea of the fabulous piece of cloth from which this jacket was fashioned. Olive green with hints of blue and a screaming orange window pane check. It's almost, almost, got a whiff of Alan Flusser by way of ADG about it, no?

From the Andover Shop. Damn, I really hit it today!

These items were acquired at a new thrift store. They've only been open three weeks. I spied the place yesterday while I was stopped at a red light, so of course I visited today. And NO, I'm not telling. Before you get all up in arms and start crying 'hypocrite', let me explain the thinking behind my steadfast secretiveness.

Nobody told me about this store, or any of my other haunts. I found them myself, through a combination of luck and persistence. You can too.

As unfortunate as it may be for "outsiders", rule #1 of thrift shopping is: You do NOT divulge your sources. Rule #2 of thrift shopping is: you do NOT divulge your sources. Nothing spoils a good hot spot like to many people knowing about it. Sorry. I suppose by extension the argument could be made that by writing this blog I tread perilously close to breaking that very rule. But I do so enjoy writing this, and I think you enjoy reading it. Otherwise you wouldn't, right?

People often marvel at the gems I am able to turn up in these places and call me selfish for not sharing. I put a lot of work into finding this stuff, don't forget. I must have suffered through at least a hundred really lousy jackets before I found this one. I can make people aware that this stuff is out there to be found, but I won't make it too easy. That just wouldn't be fair, would it? If you want it bad enough, feel free to expend as much energy on the search as I do. Besides, how hard is it these days to simply Google "Thrift Store (your city here)"? I found all these sources of mine in the old days, when you literally had to stumble across them, much like I found this new spot yesterday.

So ends the rant. Happy Hunting, and Best of Luck, One and All!

p.s. this kid is awesome! Read it.

18 January 2010

Off Season: Summer in January

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: thrift shopping knows no seasons. In order to do it successfully, you've got to be receptive to the things that find you, not the the things you find. It also requires the patience to grab some good stuff a full 1/2 year before it's time. Gives you something to look forward to, right? Besides, the whole idea of instant gratification is an ugly American disease we could all stand to outgrow.

And so, with a fresh layer of frozen sleet and snow on the streets and sidewalks of the Greater Boston area, I give you:

Madras slacks, flat front and cuffed, with a narrow leg...
real madras, the kind with a soft linen-like quality...

Serious vintage L.L. Bean. The tag may say hand wash or dry clean only, but I'm willing to bet these trews bleed beautifully in the washing machine. Can't wait.

And... Black and off-white hounds tooth jacket, in pure raw silk...
by Polo..the good stuff...made in U.S.A.

Total cost for the two: $10.49.

Stop looking for stuff in season. The pickings are better if you can learn to see things out of their proper context.

This July, I plan on convincing my Dad to buy a snow-blower. Get it?

17 January 2010

The Jams

Originally, this post was going to be subtitled "guilty pleasures", but then I thought, there's no reason to feel guilty for appreciating good music, even if popular opinion holds the truth to be otherwise.

Z Z Top is the JAM. No, not the silly gimmick ridden version, the guys with the long beards and fuzzy guitars. I'm talking about the "Little Ole Band Form Texas", a murderous country-rock power trio of the 1970's.

This record is what got me going. In the old days, I had some good friends who owned a local coffee house. Their office was a big room in the basement of a very old building. We used to hang out in the office after closing time, drinking beer and smoking weed (forgive me, I was very young then).In this office was a Foosball table, a boom-box and a few cassettes. One of them was "Tejas". Prior to this, my only experience of Z Z Top was the silly (but actually damn entertaining) video for "Legs". Boy, I had no idea...

This record is chock full of in-your-face rock hits, all with a country accent. Highlights include the opener "It's Only Love", a slow paced but heavy blues, "Enjoy Gettin' It On", a real barn stomper, and "Ten Dollar Man", pure Gibson and Fender fueled rock'n'roll. And don't forget the perfectly articulated classic country Telecaster solo that comes flying out of the clear blue right near the end of "Heartbreaker"...proof positive these guys grew up listening to the right stuff.

Besides, I find it hard to argue with a band that presents themselves like a real band. Just look at these guys! That big old Telecaster bass ain't bad neither.

Then there's "Fandango". One of those half live/half studio records that seemed to be so prevalent back then. True, this album contains the song "Tush", a strong hint toward the abject cheesiness that the eighties would hold for this band, but you'll also find the dirty blues jam "Mexican Blackbird", (with the line 'drive that old Chrysler on down to Mexico' leading you into the slide guitar solo...brilliant), "Balinese", a mid tempo bootstomp in the old fashioned style, and of course the power jam "Heard It On The X", a song about growing up listening to he notorious radio station XERF, home of Wolfman Jack, among others."The X" as it was known, was an intensely powerful station out of Mexico known for playing obscure "hillbilly" and "race" records ( read: country and black blues and gospel),with a signal so strong it was occasionally picked up as far North as Canada. They broadcast using the equipment originally belonging to XERA, the station in the thirties that broke the Carter Family, among other. Talk about backwoods street cred.

And believe me, you just don't mess with Texas...especially when Texas is emblazoned in full sequin and rhinestone glory on the back of Billy Gibbons white polyester Nudie suit.

It's surprisingly difficult to find good footage of this band in what I consider their glory days on the internet. Every where you look, it's the silly MTV videos, with the car and those damn fuzzy guitars. I did manage to turn up a1976 vintage performance of "Chevrolet". The video quality may be less than good, but it does give you an inkling as to how much fun this power trio must have been to see in their prime:

I always put these guys on when I need motivation around the house. It's real get-up-and-go music. Today I spun "Tejas" for the millionth time. My boy danced, my baby girl clapped her hands, and I got some housework done. When music can't help but get the blood pumping, that's a good sign.

If you're only memory of Z Z Top is the goofy stuff, you're missing out. Go back and find the gems they put out in the mid 70's. If you like country, or rock, or both, I promise you won't be disappointed.

16 January 2010

Product Review: Fels Naptha

How in the name of all things holy have I lived this long without Fels Naptha soap? Not only does it come in a package that looks like it came out of a time capsule buried in 1944, and for less than a dollar...it removed an oil stain from my favorite pair of J.Crew khakis. That stain had been there for nearly a year, but I couldn't part with the pants, because they fit so well, and it broke my heart. Now they're clean again.
Fels Naptha is King.

13 January 2010

House & Home: Outdated Interior Design Books

Before I get this post off and running, I'd like to thank our man Brad of the cool new(ish) blog Commerce with a Conscience. Brad writes about ways to stay fashion conscious and well dressed while not giving in to the unethical practices so prevalent in today's retail world. If you haven't already, you should read him. He recently asked me to write a guest post on thrift shopping, for which I am flattered. Thank you, Brad. Read my article here.

So, on to the matter at hand. I've mentioned before that Mrs. G. and I have a somewhat unreasonable fondness for the early 1970's when it comes to home decor. This extends beyond mere furniture into the realm of published design advice. Outdated, sure, but there are nuggets to be had. Here are three books worth picking up, should you be fortunate enough to stumble across them:

The "Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book" is one of those old rig-binder numbers, kind of like the old "Betty Crocker Cookbook". Published in 1975, it is, to be sure, full of day-glo monstrosities. But the good outweighs the bad. Besides, if you do chance upon this tome, it will likely only cost a dollar or two, pittance really.

Highlights include rooms like this, where Steelcase conference chairs mingle with a classic modernist lamp. The paint may be a bit much, but all that furniture would be damn hot in a pale orange room with a hard wood floor, right?

High definition be damned, it will be a cold day in Hell before I hang some flat t.v. on my wall. I say we bring back the console. Up with t.v. as furniture!
This little nook is designed specifically for listening to records...the vinyl kind. Included are a thick pile shag carpet and not one, but two, Eames easy chairs. The Playboy mansion never had it so good!

"High Tech", published in 1978, is a source book for using industrial products in home design. I found this excellent book in a box marked 'free' in someones trash years ago. What a score. The cool ideas in this book are too numerous to list, many of them strikingly modern despite this book being 32 years old. Highlights include:
I love to cook. The thought of having a restaurant level stove, complete with broiler, griddle and hood vent, is absolutely insane...especially in a New York apartment.

Do you need two rolls of toilet paper and an ashtray in your bathroom?
And since I am technically running a more-than-slightly-dorky menswear blog over hear...an actual closet with a dry cleaners carousel in it...every peacock's dream.

Lastly, a somewhat more well known classic, "The New York Times Book of Interior Design", from 1976.

The jammin' inspirations from this bible are too numerous to mention, so I'll just leave you with this: This rooms got me and Mrs. G. written all over it: modern paintings, a glass table, rough hewn pottery, mismatched pillows, a big plant...you name it.

The moral of the story?: the 1970's may have left us all with the bad taste of cheap cocaine and polyester in our mouths, but the furniture and home design had a surprising tendency to be rock solid. Go back and look it over...you might just be surprised.

11 January 2010


Last year, I bought some new dungarees. I wanted them to last a long time...and they might have, were it not for an accidental run in the dryer, taking four inches off the waist, and bringing the hems up to mid ankle...oops.

So I needed some new jeans. I don't wear jeans as often as I used to, when they were the absolute only trews youd find me wearing. But I do wear them often enough, especially in Winter, that I missed them when they were gone.

I like my jeans dark, rigid, and classically cut. I have no time for fashionable brands or trendy washes. As far as I'm concerned there are now and have only ever been three brands: Levi's, Lee and Wrangler. My last batch were Levi's, Lee jumped the shark along time ago, and my recent batch are Wrangler's.

You know, the old fashioned kind with the big "W" on the back pockets. Note the rivets on those pockets, a nice little detail that Levi's lacks.
True I prefer a button fly, but I can live with a zipper. After just a small bit of looking, I found these on sale for $20.99 a pair at Shepler's, a Kansas based reatiler of western wear, real cowboy stuff. In my last post about jeans, I said they should be porchased in a store that also sells power tools. Alternatively, you can get them from a plce that sells official Pro Rodeo gear.

In fact, these are Pro Rodeo gear. Can you believe this tag on the pocket? The cowboy painting leaves me speechless, and the multiple 1970's era fonts are pretty cool too. Makes me feel like I got some real jeans, somehow.

Being an East Coast-er, I prefer my jeans with tweed and sweaters.
Worn with a vintage brown check tweed jacket, striped tie with embroidered ducks, brand new Land's End blue oxford (not a bad roll on that collar, is it?), and a cheap brown cotton v-neck from (gasp!) Old Navy. (C'mon, one cheap commodity every now and again won't kill you.)
And I've always been a sucker for crisp dark jeans with shiny brown dress shoes. They ain't half bad with Bean boots, either.

I know that APC is a really hot brand right now. I've seen those jeans, I have friends who own them. They really are nice, but they also cost about $150. For jeans? That's plain foolish. Besides, thier website only offers jeans up to a 31 inch waist. I know, they are available larger, but seriously, 31 inches? These jeans are cut the same, from similar rigid denim produced in the U.S.A. The first time I wore them, someone (who knows) even asked if they were APC. He was shocked when I said they were Wrangler. The only two slight differences I can really find is that these have a zipper fly, and lack selvedge at the seam...minor details, in my book.

Jeans are inherently American. APC's are French. These Wranglers are made of American cloth, but assembled in Mexico. That's less than pefect, I know, but when you consider the fact that Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California are full of Mexicans wearing these very jeans to work on ranches and farms, it helps take a bit of the sting off. Or something. I'd love to buy exclusively U.S. products, with the occasional British or Italian piece, but until we get rid of big box retailers, who push small business out of the way, and start making things that are available to all of us, not just rich single people with no kids, I'm going to have to settle for what I can get. It's either not or walk around naked sometimes.

Conclusion: these jeans are great. At $20.99, on sale, they were a deal, but full reatil is only $24.99, still a bargain. And Shepler's is a fun site, plus they shipped to my house in less than a week. Highly recommended.