30 June 2010

From Russia, With Love

Back in May, I received the gracious offer of yet another free shirt from a new online made-to-measure outfit called simply MTM Shirts. Based in Russia, they offer a wide variety of fabrics and styles for a pretty good price. Some of their choices are a bit zesty, shall we say, but there are plenty of things in my line of thinking to work with. My little number arrived last week:

A pink and white cousin to my first foray into the world of online mtm. This time, I was wise enough to opt for matching cuffs, but I still couldn't resist the double buttons.

As for the white button down collar, forgive me. I know it's weird, but I like the uniqueness of it. Besides, I can find all the white or blue shirts I need everywhere. If I'm going to order one up, might as well add a bit of gusto, no?

The quality of this shirt is good. Even with my bells and whistles, we're only looking at $59. Not bad. The trick is that shipping was $65. Pricey, but the shirt arrived at my house a scant eight days after leaving the factory, barely three weeks from the time I placed my order. That kind of turn around has got to count for something. The measurements, about a dozen, need to be entered in metric, a pain for us savage Americans. Before the shirt was constructed, I got an email from them expressing concern on the part of one of their tailors that some of my measurements didn't quite jibe. Turns out they were right, and I emailed them a few new numbers. Pretty good service for a freebie.

I bet the guys at J.Press who sold this blazer the first time out would be appalled to see it over a Russian made shirt ordered online, but the two garments play well together.

The fits good. Snug, but not tight,with plenty of room for movement in the arms. The sleeves may be a pinch too long, but I'll chalk that up to inaccuracy on my part. That's one of the drawbacks to this whole online shirt thing. It's always better to have your measurements taken by an experienced professional. When you do it yourself, the likelihood of mistakes increases exponentially.

The placement of the collar buttons leaves something to be desired. I'll probably take them off and place them again. Another minor inconvenience. Gotta love the pink gingham and the bright green silk knit, though.

Made in England for the Andover Shop. Nice. Or wait a minute...
was it made in Italy? This tie bears both of these tags. Don't know which is true, but either way it's a good one. Well worth the $2.99 I paid for it, especially since it still had an Andover Shop price tag for $85.

Pleated tan gabardine slacks with side tabs, made in Italy courtesy of Ralphie Purple. These pants are a bit of a departure for me from the usual guidelines of my style, but that seems to be a theme with this whole rig. Nothing wrong with the occasional pleated pants, so long as they're inverted. Sort of plays of the unusual collar and the bright tie, with the old reliable 3/
sack blazer nailing it all down.

Finish the whole thing sockless with brown suede bit loafers, possibly my new favorite shoes. There may be a lot of Euro going on here, but some of those guys know how to dress, too.

Anyway, I like my MTM Shirt. The shipping may be a bit of a killer, but it's well made, the fabric is nice and the service was pretty top shelf. Hell, for $59, you could order one of these or go to the mall for some size S/M/L junk from J.Crew. You decide.

27 June 2010

In Person

Rachael runs a great ladies vintage/consignment shop called Raspberry Beret. Maybe you know her, she was at the booth next to me at the Top Shelf Flea Market. She has graciously invited yours truly to host a menswear party in her shop, three weeks from today.
Come check it out. You be the young guy with the sharp haircut, and I'll be the frizzy old dude. And bring the ladies, Rachael's got plenty of treats for them, too.

An Affordable Wardrobe
at Raspberry Beret
Sunday, 18 July, 12-3pm(ish)
1704 Mass. Ave. Cambridge

24 June 2010

The Best Shorts Are Pants

In the old days, I was very anti-shorts. I could go on and on about how shorts were for children, and how the ubiquitous presence of them at all times was frequently inappropriate. And outside of the beach, or sometimes cycling, I never wore them. I seem to have had a change of heart in the last few years.

These days, I wear shorts with relative frequency if the weather is hot. I spend a lot of time with my children, so comfort is important to me, but I'll be damned if I'm leaving the house in exercise clothes and pyjamas. As a result, I've come around to the fact that a man can be well appointed in a pair of shorts. We recently discussed a new pair from L.L. Bean. Today we have an old pair in plaid madras:

I find it harder to get shorts with a good fit than pants. Length is key. For me, and 8 inch inseam is best, just above the knee. They're called shorts, so they should be, you know, short. And pockets are important, too, as in, not too many. Two in front and two in back should be plenty, just like pants. I really don't get the infatuation men seem to have with cargo pockets.If you're wearing shorts in the first place, you're probably doing something casual, in which case you probably don't need half the crap in your pockets, in which case you don't need all those pockets anyway, right?

Trickiest of all is the width of the opening. So many shorts are cut with giant openings so that they wear like drapes. I suppose they cut them this way in the name of comfort, but I've never been comfortable in clothes that fit like drapes. I like it better when they fit properly, that I find comfortable. I didn't measure this pair, but you can see they're rather trim. That's because these shorts are actually pants, or at least they were when I bought them. The madras they're made from is top notch, maybe not the bleeding kind, but good stuff from the eighties. They were, as pants, at least two inches short, but for $4.99, I saw potential. I dropped them of at the trusty tailor, who cut them down to an 8 inch inseam for an additional $5.00. It's a little trick worth knowing in the thrift world, especially since for a lot of guys plaid pants are a bit much, but plaid shorts are fine.
I requested to keep the excess cloth from the bottom. I just couldn't bear to waste that fine old madras. Maybe I'll have Ellie fashion a bow tie out of it for me...or something.

22 June 2010

Sockeye; Reprise

Fresh back from the dry cleaners, and not a moment too soon. 80 degrees of sunny dry heat. What else would a guy wear but a jacket the color of fresh sockeye salmon:

I knew this jacket was a pip the day I bought it, but the thing was filthy...like brittle with dirt. Still, I saw the potential, because you have to think that way when you're buying someone else's junk. Now, it's soft and fresh, and two shades more vibrant. I also had our man Mr. Lee change the matching salmon colored buttons for white ones. That little extra dose of casual goes a long way to making sense of this jacket, no?

It's almost impossible to photograph, but there are actually microscopic bits of navy blue thread woven into this fine piece of vintage hop sack. That's why the navy gingham square is such a ringer. Before someone else says it, I am fully aware that the white tennis shirts have been getting heavy play lately. But when trotting out something in so strong a color as this jacket for the trial run, best to set it off with neutrals. Next time, maybe a white oxford with a navy pencil stripe, or perhaps a navy kn it tie with white dots...

Down below, a pair of brown suede bit loafer driving shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo that I picked up only this morning for $6.00. Not Gucci, but close enough. Talk about divine providence, huh?

Overall, this may be a teensy bit more "Hollywood" for me...but after all, though my style may be steeped in the traditions of New England, I am underneath it all an Italian.
p.s. What thw F***? I swear I didn't see this until after.

19 June 2010

Authenticity (or not)

"Authenticity" is a tricky concept. Sometimes it is of the utmost importance. Take Champagne, for example. There's the real stuff, delicate, toasty, and ethereal, something truly in a class by itself. And then there's the other stuff. White wine with bubbles in it, often called champagne, but not the same thing, not even close. Nice enough in it's own right, but not even close.

And there are "Nantucket Reds", the coral pink faded cotton pants that have for many years been iconic of true east coast gentility.
I love my reds. Come Summer time, I wear them quite often, especially on hot days. Today we were pushing 90, and all it took was a navy blue tennis shirt and a madras belt and I was both comfortable and well put together. They're like wearing khakis, only better. Tennis shirt and khakis? That's alright, if you want to look like a sales rep from the local beer distributor. Tennis shirt and reds? Flashy enough to be cool without being an over-the-top pushy weirdo (at least in Boston, anyway.)

Part of the attraction of reds has always been the fade they develop when they age. A few years back when I got these pants, they were at least two shades darker, almost the color of the infamous sockeye jacket. Now they've reached a nice medium pink, and fading nicely at the edges of the pockets. Next step, a bit of fray at the hems. But...

...they're not "real". True Nantucket Reds come only from Murray's Toggery Shop on Martha's Vineyard,and are made of sailcloth, and cost a lot of money. Mine hail from Lands' End by way of the thrift store, and cost $4.99. So there not authentic, but who cares? Just tonight, a young lady referred to them as "J.F.K. pants". Good enough for me. I had a pair from Murray's once, but I actually like these better. The cloth is soft like an old pair of khakis. Sailcloth is thick, rigid and coarse, all worthy attributes in a sail, but frankly a bit uncomfortable on a hot day, if you ask me.

Don't get me wrong. Any well dressed guy ought to know the origins and evolution of the clothes he wears. It helps to have context, especially with some of the unusual items. But real authenticity can be of dubious importance. After all, how many of you brought your khakis back home after an honorable discharge from the Army in 1946, or were aboard the H.M.S. Blazer in 1837 for the visit of Queen Victoria, or actually play tennis in a Lacoste tennis shirt? The list is endless. Besides, these pants are really only "authentic" as part of the uniform of an old money New England white guy. Beats me how they wound up in the closet of a tattooed Italian-American three time college drop out who works nights in the liquor store.

Authenticity is good, just don't take it too far. It's only clothes we're talking about here, not Champagne.p.s. The Nantucket Reds currently available from Murray's are "imported". How's that for authentic?

17 June 2010

Yesterday & Today (Quirks & Conservatism)

Menswear hasn't changed much in 100 years...at least not the good stuff. After a weeks worth of pushy and perhaps questionable sartorial attempts, I chose today a fully classic combination. But in reviewing the photos, I realize that there are some particulars about the cut and fit of many of my clothes that may seem a bit peculiar. As you may have guessed by now, every little detail of my rigs, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is there on purpose. So, before we begin a discussion of the 'right' or 'wrong' of these things, allow me to present my point:

I'm 5'10". The rules tell me that I should wear a size 40 regular jacket. But I wear a size 40 short, technically the 'wrong' size for me. But it isn't wrong...not for me.

I came up learning that a man's jacket should extend just to the tip of his thumb. As you can see in the above photo, my favorite trusty J.Press hop sack blazer falls well short of this mark, by an inch or more. This works for me, because my inseam is only 29 inches. Through the years, I've discovered that a size regular, my 'proper' size, makes my legs look stumpy, while a shorter coat makes me look taller and leaner. This jacket, besides being a hard wearing quality piece in excellent shape for its age, is one of the most flattering and useful things I've ever owned.

Couldn't be more classic when paired with a fresh white tennis shirt from Lands End, no name seersucker pants in a sharp trim cut, and a brown Coach belt. Funny, I paid more than three times as much money for the tennis shirt as I did for the 25 year old J.Press blazer. Which leads me to another point, or rather, tangent:

Most men don't do vintage. It's too confusing. A girl can rock a psychedelic maxi dress, or some bell bottoms with aplomb if she's on her game, but for a guy, it's harder. Unless you want to devote yourself to the costume of one particular period, and all the comment and conversation that invites, forget it. The great thing about quality menswear is that it always works. That's why this old blazer and this brand new shirt and some likely 1980s pants play so well together. When I hunt these things down, I pay little attention to era, and all my attention to quality.

Down below, penny loafers and bare ankles. These pants are finished to 28 inches, a full inch short. Why? Because I know that I will never wear these pants with socks, and that a high water cuff is so much better in this case. For me that's a personal quirk. Come June, I'll do everything I can not to wear socks again until September.

If you've always figured there's a 'right' and a 'wrong' length for jackets and trousers, consider that it's all a bit relative. In the 1940s, lapels were wide, jackets were long, and pants were high waisted and baggy. In the 1960s, lapels were narrow, jackets short and pants trim and short. A size 40 regular in 1944 was a lot different that a 40 regular in 1966. My point? Find the cut that suits you best, and go with it. Pay little or no attention to numbers or terminology. Thom Browne and his devotees would have us believe that short is the new modern. In a few years time, someone else will come along to push padded shoulders and long jackets on us. It's all cyclical, and kinda bullsh*t. Trust your instincts, but temper them perhaps with the well meaning opinion of a lady or two.

Deep down, you know what works for you. Go out and find it, and wear it in good health.

16 June 2010

Caught Stealing

Style is an evolving thing. It frequently requires some creative stealing. The older I get and the more I learn about this stuff, the more I steal from other stylish men. Nothing wrong with that, so long as one does ones best to use a combination of taught, learned and stolen elements as something of a sartorial arsenal, with due deference all around, of course. Today's due deference goes to long time Affordable Wardrobe reader Dave, on the subject of the lately much-vaunted Converse Chuck Taylor All Star:
You may have noticed that I've been wearing my own pair of low cut Chuck Taylors in natural canvas quite often lately. They round out the essential Summer shoe wardrobe, along with boat shoes and white bucks. What with being the prime care taker of two wee children all day long, I find the comfort of sneakers to be quite welcome. Chuck Taylors pull this off and let me remain true to my style. Then I get this email from Dave applauding my choice of footwear, but with an added bonus. Dave has hit upon the brilliant, yet oh-so-simple, idea of swapping the cloth shoelaces for leather rawhide:
I read that email after breakfast, and by lunch time I had switched my laces. Just like that, those old Chucks are almost, you know, a shoe. For a while, I felt a bit guilty about nabbing this idea from an appreciative email. But really, if I had seen this on the street, I'd have stolen it just the same without the benefit of being able to give any credit where it's due. Good one, Dave, real good.

Said shoes in said state are the perfect finish to smart-casual humidity chic, like some creased but wrinkled khakis and a shirt in mini Black Watch plaid, two buttons open at the neck, possibly too much chest hair.

Ribbon belts are cool because they sort of give a guy the color and pattern of a necktie when a tie would be too much. Note the admittedly affected touch of the belt cinched at the side. I may be able too keep things relatively simple when need be, but I've never been good at leaving well enough alone.

Dave, if you're reading this, I hope you don't mind. But seriously, what a great idea. I love it. Any of you others steal this, remember to buy Dave an imaginary beer, or something.

12 June 2010


I could have called this post "Orange", but that just wouldn't do our subject justice. It's more the color of a fresh fillet of sockeye salmon. My dangerous proclivity for the pushy palette strikes again.
In the past, I've lamented the fact that my life just doesn't require nice clothes, but in reality it's a good thing. I can think of few, if any, situations requiring a jacket where a rig like this would be appropriate, so dressing this way by choice opens the door to these admittedly crazy pieces. I'd get pretty bored in a navy or grey suit all the time, you know.
3/2, darted, three button cuff, lapped seams, shallow center vent,open patch pockets all around

All rendered in a really nice proper hop sack cloth, open weave for cool breathing in warm weather, with little specks of navy threads throughout, 1/2 lined in pink shark skin satin.
I bet the previous owner was a teacher. Note the ball point pen marks in both blue and red. A nice touch, don't you think?

Hickey Freeman by way of the long gone F.R.Tripler of New York. I'm willing to bet at least some of you are surprised that such a thing comes with a bit of a pedigree. Tripler is a relic well regarded by the kind of guys, like me, who geek out on this stuff, but oddly enough the only thing I could find about them on the web was this article published originally in 1940. (Besides, of course, some abject menswear geekiness over at Ask Andy...don't get me started. What's up with that slutty ad in the sdiebar? Yikes!)

All mine for $8.99. A bit steep for me, but well worth it. It needs a good cleaning, so it might be a few weeks before this number hits the streets, but hit the streets it will.

Consider yourself warned.

10 June 2010

Curve ball

The rules and standards of the basic tenets of dressing well are, for men at least, pretty rigidly defined. However, living in Boston, Ole Ma Nature throws one a hell of a lot of curve balls (and breaking balls, and knuckle balls, and off-speed pitches). A fella's got to know how to adapt.

It's June, but it's rainy, dreary and downright chilly. Not one to opt for clothing grossly out of season, I instead reached for a light blue "chambray"( read: 'Brookslinen', a blend likely comprised of mostly polyester with just a touch of actual linen, and a chambray like weave. Who cares? It wears well, looks good, and cost cheap) jacket by Brooks Brothers ($7.49), with khaki pants (J.Crew "Essential Chinos", $5.49), and a nautically themed shirt and tie ( navy shirt by Polo, $.99, tie by Brooks Brothers, $.99). A Summer palette at heart, though not to cheery for a grey sky.

I'll admit, I'm not really one for a dark shirt and light jacket combo, but I dig this navy button down. I think it sets off the light blue jacket nicely, as well as the burgundy tie. The gingham cotton square holds it all together, as the little details most often do. Could be that a navy button down is finding it's way into 'staple' status in my Summer kit. Yes, it's a dark shirt, but the overall nautical tilt of this color scheme makes it all o.k....I think...

Down below (or below decks...forgive me, but besides living in Boston and the proliferation of sea-faring themes in much of the classic American men's wardrobe, I've also been reading Herman Melville lately), a dirty old pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, in natural canvas. Recently, a reader sent us a link to this article in the Guardian about dressing one's age. While I agree with about 90% of it, that bit about a man of 34 being too old for Chuck Taylors was too much. True, black high tops and fluorescent colors are best left to the kids, but I see no problem with a stylish man of any age wearing natural canvas, white, navy or even red if he's zesty. Seriously. Besides, that blue jacket has a way of screaming "Bob Hope" if I'm not careful. Gotta keep it in check with a vital dose of youth.

Finally, the Scrimshaw tie bar was probably a bit much with the sea gull and anchor tie. Oh well, call it a curve ball.

07 June 2010

Evening Dress

I have absolutely no need to own evening clothes, formal wear, or any of that jazz. Hell, you could say I don't really even need to own a suit (sigh). But shopping in the thrift world, one must be open to the things that find the shopper, as opposed to vice versa. The following is nothing short of a severe example:
Feast your eyes: a 1960s vintage tuxedo, well kept in near perfect condition, fits me like a glove. Best of all, it's not black, but rather the elusive 'midnight blue'. What could be more bad*ss than an old midnight blue tux? Check the fine details...

I always did dig the shawl collar. But look closely. The pants have a satin stripe down the out seam. The lapels, however, are not faced in satin, they match the suit. A tiny detail, but a damned important one. So cool.

Hailing from the no doubt long gone Miami Beach men's shop Jules Gillette. Anybody have any stories about this place?

Also, the thing is made entirely of silk. Real heavy stuff, with ribs, maybe shantung or dupioni. Anyway, seriously, a silk tux? Vintage? With dry cleaning tags still attached with safety pins? $12.99 (damn right)? How in the name of all things holy could I turn my back on such a prize?

And what with the recent gift of this bib front plaid tux shirt, from London-by-way-of Tin Tin, my formal wear knob was turned up to 11.

Complete with detachable pique collar. As Tin Tin himself said, a real pain in the *ss, but totally worth it.

Now, I could go on a rip about how I'll never be in need of this outfit, but that's just not true. If I don't get invited somewhere black tie, Lord knows with a rig like this in the closet, I'll damn well create the situation, host the event myself if I have to. Stay tuned.

Instead, I'll use this extreme example as a reminder of this blogs original intent, it's very heart, if you will.

A lack of money does not necessarily coincide with a lack of taste, as much as having money doesn't necessarily grant one good taste. Nor does a lack of money mean that any of us should be relegated to a slovenly and unkempt lifestyle. Many people think that thrift shopping is a dirty and pointless business resulting only in the acquisition of dead people's stuff and nasty old junk. In large part this is true, but remember, persistence will always be rewarded.

I'll bet this tux is better than a lot of rich guys. I could crash a mean fundraiser in that get-up. Maybe all this formal wear coming around at once is a portent of something to come...

05 June 2010

Off Season

The air outside today was like walking underwater...hot water. Lets talk about some flannel and wide wale corduroy, shall we? As though I didn't have enough pair of full bore, in your face, what's-this-guy's-problem pants, three more came along of late:
In the comments to a recent post, some of you put the screws to our man ADG. Most in question were his choices in trousers, the traffic stopping kind. I'm here to buck up for my friend, 'cause he sure as hell ain't alone. But honestly, I'm a complete sucker for heavy weight, soft to the touch, proper tartan wool flannel, in any men's garment, but as trews it's an extra bonus. As for the pink corduroy...c'mon, pink corduroy? When I brought this pair to the register at the local thrift, the following transpired:

cashier (older black woman in a wig, her voice husky with cigarettes): women's pants?
yours truly: no, men's pants.
cashier: jazzy.
Pair #1, from the internationally known Brothers, long time standard bearers in such realms.

Pair #2 from the geekier, if more esoteric and higher quality, Chipp.

Pair #3, from Johnny Appleseed's, a long gone local purveyor of such things. Massachusetts used to be full of these places (sigh). All three pair cost less than $25 together. Go ahead, who will be the first with the "get what you pay for" crack. I dare you.

It is by now well known that I enjoy dressing well, and I sometimes lament the absence of the requirement to do so. But the bright side of this is that I need not be bound by laws pertaining to navy suits and white shirts. Since I dress this way by choice, I can allow myself all the cockamamie cords and silly plaid pants I want, where if I were required to dress in jacket and tie, 90% of my wardrobe would be unacceptable.

I could go on about how men behave, and dress, like teenagers well into middle age, and I could complain about our collective loss of decorum in all social matters in general...and I could talk about the courage involved in wearing pink pants in an age when a blue shirt and striped tie with khakis will likely get you jokes and sidelong glances in many everyday situations. But truthfully, I'm more than a pinch of a peacock, and so ain't any guy who would wear this stuff, regardless of upbringing, circumstance or point in history. I like to wear pushy clothes, can't help it.

Forgive me this brief moment of introspection, bur wasn't "know thyself" some famous advice from some famous old guy?

02 June 2010


I did a post about something like this before.

Years ago, I was a more than avid cyclist. In fact, until my wife became pregnant for the first time, I had never driven a car. I was 26 when I first got my license. Until then, I travelled only by bicycle. In my sons first two Summers, we travelled by bike quite a bit together. He rode in a back seat behind me on a vintage Raleigh Sports 3-speed. The last two years, with two kids in tow, bikes were out of the question. Until last week, when Mrs. G. purchased a trailer. I tried to hook it up to the Raleigh, but of course it didn't fit...because the Raleigh is English, and nothing fits on it that ain't also English. No matter, it only lit the proverbial fire under my proverbial *ss to complete a project that had been in the cue for a few years.

Behold, my newest old thing: a rescued, re-furbished and totally restyled mid 1980s Fuji touring bike. I found this bike two years ago, leaning against a wall outside the back exit of the Harvard Museum of Natural History...not chained to the bike rack, just leaned against a wall. Back then, it was pale blue, but rusty. The tires were flat and the cables all broken, but it was clear that at one time this was a better than decent road bike. Over the course of that Summer, I saw it there repeatedly. It never moved...the weeds only grew up longer around it. Until finally, after three months, I "rescued" it.

So, I took her home, with an eye to a rebuild. I dismantled her completely, and the old girl lived divided as a frame in my garage, and a box of parts in the cellar, until this week. It became clear to me that I needed a multi geared bike capable of hauling the boy and the girl pronto. First, I cleaned all the parts. I mean cleaned, like with mineral spirits and steel wool. Then I painted her black...because black is sexy. Then I rebuilt her, with a few stylish modifications. In place of the vinyl saddle, I put my old leather Brooks B-17 in 'Honey'. Originally the collective Christmas gift of a number of very close friends years ago, I broke this saddle in by riding it hard on a fixed gear bike for many years. You gotta love that patina, and tell me it ain't tack sharp on a black frame made of lugged steel.

I'd like to say that one day I'll have sewn-on elk hide tape, but I likely never will. Too extravagant. Old-school cork tape in a natural tan is fine by me. On day, I'll own a 1984 Mercedes diesel station wagon that employs the combination of shiny black paint, orange/brown leather, and tan accessories. Until then, I'll settle for this.

I needed a bell. This brass jobbie was on my boy's trike, long forgotten. The handle bars were too wide for it, but that's o.k., because its way cooler mounted on the stem. Ring-a-ding-ding!

Originally a 14 speed, I modified her down to 7 by taking off one of the front chain rings and leaving only the smaller of the two.
Tell me she ain't one good looking piece of simple machinery.

So, what's this got to do with An Affordable Wardrobe? Simple. I basically got this bike in the trash. A little bit of elbow grease, and just shy of $100 later, and I have a well built and damn cool bike. It's useful, it's sharp, it's recycling, it looks good, it's fun, the kids love it, etc., etc...Sure, I could have bought a new 7 speed bike to haul the kids. But it wouldn't be lugged steel, it wouldn't be original, it wouldn't have my blood and sweat on it and it wouldn't be as much "mine".

Learn to see potential in things, and don't be afraid to pour a little bit of your gutsinto it.You'll be surprised.

p.s. here's what she looked like on the day i decided to save 'er: