30 September 2010

Well Curated Authentic Vintage Heritage Brand Americana

I've never really been much of a sneaker guy. I wear shoes almost all of the time. But there is something to be said for the simplicity and style of the classic Converse Chuck Taylor All Star. Every couple of Summers, I pick up a low cut pair in natural canvas. I find them to be comfortable and stylish, good for the beach, and even workable with a shirt and tie, if you do it just right. I treat them almost like boat shoes. They go great with crisp khakis and a navy blue tennis shirt...not a bad outfit for a trans-Atlantic flight, and comfortable, too. My current pair saw the end of its run this Summer, so I'm due for a fresh pair in May. Then I find these:
New Old Stock, never worn and clean as a whistle, in my size, $9.99 at an undisclosed thrift shop. Better still...
They're the real thing, made in the USA. Cursory homework reminds me that Converse moved production of these American classics overseas in the early twenty-first century, so this pair is ten years old, or so. My educated guess,judging by the logo on the insole, is some time in the 80s.

I grew up wearing these. Mostly, in the old days, I opted for black high tops, with a brief foray, along with everyone else in the early 90s, into the fluorescent colors. My mother would take us to the nearby outlet store for a new pair. You could get them for $15. What other sneakers would any sensible Mom buy her two boys? As a bonus, they were even in style, so we didn't complain.

I remember when they moved production, and were eventually acquired by (gasp!) Nike. At the time, I was heavily involved in my own Rockabilly infused version of Punk Rock, and I found this news to be quite disheartening. In the Summer I wore these, in the winter, Georgia engineer boots. I actually read about it in Maximum Rock N Roll.( p.s. as a drummer, I always found it downright tacky to have a front head on the bass drum with the drum kit logo on it. So not punk. Always get a white one and paint your bands name on it...c'mon, kids, really) As the years went by, I stopped wearing them for a while, but I eventually returned. One thing I learned from Punk Rock was the importance of principles. One thing I learned from life was how to pick your battles. I buy every damn thing I own second hand, except underwear and natural canvas Chucks. Nobodies perfect. Still, for a grown up who used to listen to Suicidal Tendencies (all I wanted was a Pepsi, but she wouldn't give it to me!), this really is the perfect Summer shoe.

As for comparison, its clear this pair is far superior to my post USA pairs. The design is practically the same, and the production fairly similar. The differences are all in the materials. This pair is made of cotton canvas, as opposed to partially synthetic canvas. The ventilation eyelets on the side actually line up shoe to shoe, and the insole is also cotton canvas....far more forgiving and comfortable to my sweaty sockless foot.

But these shoes present me with a minor dilemma. By now, they're a collectors item, practically a museum piece. I could probably sell them on Ebay tomorrow to some Japanese fanatic for nearly a hundred bucks, but I won't. The hoarder in me feels compelled to preserve them. In truth, I'll likely just wear them for two Summers until they fall apart.

In other words, I intend to give this piece of Well Curated Authentic Vintage Heritage Brand Americana the life it was meant to live. I intend to wear them to death.

29 September 2010

Cool Weather Can't Come Soon Enough...

It's always good to know your roots, not forget where you came from. Here's a post to remind usof the old days of An Affordable Wardrobe. Lots of pictures, minimal pontification:
Cavalry Twill, thick as you thumb, lapped seams
3/2 undarted front
3 button cuff
hook vent

Imagine it on a crisp day with charcoal flannels, a thick oxford shirt, wool knit tie, tweed cap and Florsheim longwings, or maybe even with some dark jeans and a soft white oxford on a trans-atlantic flight. Unstoppable. Now if only we had some weather that wasn't 84 degrees and fully humid...

27 September 2010

Don't Confuse Comfort with Laziness

We often lament the loss of decorum in society in general. By we, I mean myself and the other odd-balls who seem to be reading this blog and others like it. Don't get offended by that, the oddest thing about us is that we take care to present ourselves well and see it as something more than just a clothing fetish. Aiports, of course, provide a particularly extreme example of the opposite of my way of thinking in sartorial matters. Recently, this article about the legendary Gay Talese has been floating around, which illustrates another kind of extreme. Somewhere between the two is a workable medium. In a recent email, my old pal Keohane (the guy who kindly opened a juicy can of worms on this blog in the past) had this to say about it:

I don't wear a three-piece suit when I fly, but I always wear a blazer, a button down shirt, and often a nice hat. It pains me to no end to see some maundering bag of food draped in matted velour sweatpants waiting at the check-in line. The 60s are big again style-wise, yet the idea that you should be presentable when you fly (which was a hard, fast rule forty years ago) remains inconceivable to most people. The wonder and ceremony, like in most other parts of life in America, are all gone. When J*** and I were flying to Argentina in 08, I had my usual uniform--jeans, shoes, button down, grey sportcoat, straw fedora, on. The kid checking IDs at the gate did a double take and said, "You look like a movie star, yo."

People bitch to no end about treated brusquely causally by airport personnel. But if you don't dress in a way that expresses a measure of self-respect, how can you expect people to treat you as anything but cattle? I find I'm almost always treated better when I fly, because my appearance suggests that that's what I expect from people. This is a general rule for life, I think.

Well said, old friend, well said.

25 September 2010

A Farewell to Summer

As Summer draws to a close, I tend to get antsy to break out the other clothes, the good stuff, the tweeds and flannels. As usual, I got ahead of myself and switched the clothes in my closet prematurely, and as usual, Boston got a wave of Indian Summer, temps in the 80s. Normally, this irks me, because I actually prefer the cooler weather, but this time around, I've accepted our last minute batch of balmy days.
I was recently the recipient of this absolutely killing pair of vintage Quoddy boat shoes. The photos just don't do them justice, because these things are orange, as in Orange, as in ORANGE. I took these photos in full sunlight at mid day in an effort to capture their truly powerful hue, but it just doesn't translate. The recent litle heat wave gave me a good reason to bust them out a few times before relegating them to the storage box at the back of the closet. So yeah, this time around, I actually welcomed some late September heat.
Thomas, a reader of your favorite blog, purchased these on Ebay, but I guess they were just a pinch too small for him, a pinch enough to make them too uncomfortable. He graciously offered them to me, with his best wishes, saying something like "If anyone can pull these off..." I'm forever grateful, Tom, and I owe you one. These shoes are a serious power play.
At first you might assume they're a tough nut to crack, but I find them to be right at home in a casual but smart outfit of rumpled khakis and a mini Black Watch shirt, worn untucked over a white tennis shirt. That was yesterday. The perfect rig for one last trip with the children out to Castle Island. You can read all about the place on the link, but let me just tell you that it's one of the best things about living in Boston. Until the early twentieth century, it was an actual island. The tidal flats of South Boston were eventually filled in, connecting it to mainland and creating Carson Beach in the process, and making one of the best places to simply hang out with children that I've ever seen. On Friday, I decided to put on my orange boat shoes and surprise the boy by picking him up from pre-school and heading straight to Southie, as the yokels call it.
Fort Independence, the "castle" of Castle Island. This imposing granite fort, full of cannons, is a hulk of nineteenth century military architecture. It's a fun tour if you're a history buff, but mostly it's just the cool centerpiece in the middle of a beautiful park by the seaside. There's something nice about a former miliatry fortification serving a second duty as a fun place for children and old folks.
If you're a kid, you could spend half a day just checking out the "Pirate Ships". They're actually old schooners that take tourists out on sailing trips in the harbor. But if you're a 4 year old boy, they're Pirate Ships. Fantastic.
After eating a spectacular junk food lunch at Sullivan's, and spending an hour at the playground, you might be lucky enough to see a gigantic cargo ship leaving the harbor. Even for a grown up, the sheer hugeness of these things is impressive. I asked my kids "Can you believe something so big and heavy can float?" to which the boy answered "I bet it took 100 men to put it in the water". Again, fantastic.
And maybe there are even some guys windsurfing in the bay, also fun to watch.

Castle Island was a place I loved as a child and it's really special to share it with my own kids. If nothing else, it's the perfect excuse to have two hot dogs with mustard, relish and onions, french fries and ginger ale for lunch...and then, an hour later, you get to go back for a vanilla ice cream cone. I'm not much of a hot weather guy, but as Summer ends I will miss trips to Castle Island....and orange Quoddy boat shoes.

23 September 2010

The Jams

It's been a while since I wrote an installment of my infrequent series "The Jams". Today, rather than concentrate on a single specific recording, I thought we might talk about the blessing/curse that is vinyl record collecting in general, and the large equipment needed to feed the vice. It's a subject that is dear to me, and one well worth approaching here.

I love music. For as long as I can remember, it's been an integral part of my life. It started with my fathers love of soul/r&b/dance music of the 1960s. Back in the day, he was quite the dancer, and when I was growing up, we always had some jam going in the house. True, much of it was simply the pop stuff that was on the radio when he was a young teenager, but it really meant something to him. That really stuck with me. When I was about 15, he gave me an old Masterworks British turntable that belonged to him when he was in college. It was a spindle player, the kind you could stack records on, sort of an analog precursor to the (now obsolete) multi-disc changer. It remains to this day one of the best gifts I ever received. That same year, I became stricken with a severe case of Beatlemania, which is a little weird, I guess, since I was 14 in 1990. As luck would have it, at the time there was a truly fantastic record store near my house called Disc Diggers. I managed over the course of a few years to collect a complete collection of Beatles first pressings, few of them costing me more that a few dollars. In the years that followed, I learned to play the drums, by listening to Beatles records on that very record player in the attic while I banged along. I've played in loads of bands, and was lucky enought to tour Europe once upon a time. These days life is much less Rock 'n Roll, but that doesn't change my love of music. That record player is long gone, and so is Disc Diggers, and I'm hardly likely to tour the small club circuit again, but the damage had been done.
One thing I will never lose is my habit of collecting music, and my absolute insistence of the vinyl record as the only real viable method of reproduction, preferably of course if the music was committed to magnetic tape using cardioid microphones in a big, open room. Here we see the current collection as it stands today. As with clothing, my tastes shift a bit now and then, and I try to pare things down occasionally. But there are plenty of records in there that I've owned for 20 years, that were already 30 years old when I discovered them.  I realize that for many people today, the idea of a music library taking up a big part of the house seems inconceivable, when all those songs plus ten times as many can fit into a device in your pocket. But for me there's more to it than that. This is an honest to God music library, a fine collection I have spent my entire life building, a living thing that continues to grow. I could never feel the same about an expanding collection of MP3s. It's simply not the same. Non-audiophiles don't get that, which I understand completely. But vinyl junkies feel this on a level that is inexplicable to outsiders. But that won't stop me from at least attempting to explain it.
That right there is what we call a stereo, or hi-fi, meaning it reproduces music in high fidelity, meaning the sounds that come out of that machine are as true to the sound of music in live performance as you can get. And it's true. Digital technology has progressed far enough to allow us a stunning breadth of sound quality, I'd never deny it. But what's missing is the feeling. Simply put, it's not physical, and all music is physical. It's inherent in the very process of it's creation. Records exist physically, which makes them more of an honest reproduction. Of course, I love old stuff, so my view is a bit biased. But bear with me...

This is my Pro-Ject turntable.In the last year that Mrs. G. and I could actually afford to buy nice gifts for each other for Christmas, I was stunned to receive this. That Christmas day, I spent two hours calibrating it, which of course I loved. In order to switch speeds from 33rpm to 45 rpm, you have to remove the platter and switch the drive belt to a larger wheel on the motor. Just my kind of pain-in-the-ass. The first record I played on it was "Ride This Train" by Johnny Cash, a record worthy someday of its own post. I won't lie, when I heard how beautiful my new machine made this old record sound, my eyes welled up. Really, they did. I told you, music has always been very meaningful to me.

The turntable runs through this 90s vintage solid state Marantz amp. One day I'll have a tube amp, but for now this is pretty  good. Also the gift of Mrs. G. (I love my wife), this amp was a birthday present, to replace my old Marantz amp from the 70s, which had died a while before. Basically, it's that same as the old one, only the old one was encased in wood,and looked a little better, and weighed a lot more.

Beside it on the floor sits a pair of KLH speakers. I picked these out, along with my old wooden Marantz, as my combined birthday/Christmas gift when I was 17.  We got them at a local shop that used to be called Used Sound. They were $90 for the pair, and I remember thinking how expensive they were. That was in the Winter of 1993, but these speakers were easily 25 years old already. These days, pushing 40, they only get better with age. Sure, I'm a Luddite, but there is nothing digital that lives and breaths this way. These days people tend to forget that the very wood these speakers are encased in has an awful lot to do with the warmth and beauty of the sounds that come out of them.
The old Model Six speakers were a masterpiece. Check that high frequency toggle switch at the back. Ipods would be so much better if they had toggle switches.
Out in the other room, we run a pair of late 70s vintage Jensens. These are actually a recent acquisition, picked up at a local thrift, $30 for the pair, less than a year ago. Convenience be damned, a stereo should be a collection of pieces of furniture. Think of how much space amps and  drum kit take up, not to mention an orchestra or a jazz outfit with an upright bass and a piano. There's no way you can boil all that down to an Ipod, not really.
I said earlier that music had a physical nature. Remember, I am a drummer. When people make music, it happens physically. Bang the drum, pound the piano, lay into the violin, or just milk the feedback out of those hot vacuum tubes. Thats where the guts in all this are. With records, there is a physical connection. You can actually touch the grooves, feel it with your hand. In order to play the songs, you have to take a big thing out of its cover, clean it, and lay the needle on it with a gentle touch. It's physical. It's true. It's real. Send that all out through some old wood, and the experience is second only to live performance. Ipods and MP3s will never even come close. The topic isn't really even open for discussion. I'm going to have to be hard*ss on this one. Analog recording, by way of vinyl, by way of wood, is incomparable. If you don't believe me or understand, find your way to a record player and listen to an old recording of the Budapest Quartet.

Feel free, of course, to voice your opinions. Just don't expect to budge me.

22 September 2010

7 Dirty Words (a curmudgeon rants)

People like to describe things. It's only natural. It gives them a point of reference when conversing with others. A lot of the terminology we use is more than a little silly, in one way or another. I've worked in the fine wine and gourmet food business for years, so believe me when I tell you  know a thing or two about silly, geeky terminology. Add to that three years of writing a menswear blog on the internet and I'm practically swimming in it. As a result, I've decided to declare a moratorium, at least temporarily, on the following seven words/phrases as they apply to mens clothing. I intend to treat them like dirty words. Actually, that's not true, I use those words all the time. These seven I tend to avoid like the plague:

This one is the mildest of the bunch, being at it's simplest only an abbreviation of "traditional". As such, I read it to mean just that, traditional, as in "been around for a while", or "if it ain't broke don't fix it" Really, as a dirty word it's pretty soft-core, I'm just not a fan of needless abbreviation. If we used the full word more often, it's likely that we'd tend to use it correctly more often. Besides, Tin Tin is a good guy, so I'm almost willing to give this one a pass...almost.

This word gets bandied about like mad, especially amongst the workwear/fashion, New York Lumberjack set. Everything's just got to be so damned authentic. Drives me mad. True, your Filson tincloth jacket may authentic, your Woolrich blanket may be authentic, and those jeans you paid $400 for that you never wash may be authentic too, in that they're made in USA by some venerable old brand. But all that stuff thats designer, all those collaborations, all those poor people clothes that are priced only for millionaires? No way. There ain't nothing authentic about designer coal mining clothes, no matter where they come from or what the label says. Unless, of course, you work in an actual coal mine, in which case the other guys are likely to beat you up when they hear how much all that gear cost you.

Heritage Brand
I've got no beef with actual heritage brands. I do love my Bean Boots. But you never hear that term applied to things that actually have some heritage. That's because real heritage is usually content to be quiet, it speaks for itself and it doesn't need a label to tell you. I find that once that label is applied to something it usually means that its an overpriced copy of a romanticized version of the original thing, which was actually a commodity for average people in the first place. (See Authentic, above)

Well Curated
Let's say you walk into a museum to see an exhibit of artifacts recently un-earthed at a new dig site in Egypt. The archeologist found a lot of stuff, but only the best or most exemplary pieces were chosen for display at the museum. You might say that the collection was well curated, and you'd be right. But a store, or these days online store, is not a place to describe as well curated. Stores have buyers who select the merchandise they would like to sell, and then display it in a way which will hopefully get you to buy it when you see it. They create an atmosphere, one that suggests a certain lifestyle or frame of mind to match their wares. It's not curation, it's business and marketing. Actually, the way they've co-opted the term "well curated " has been a pretty good stroke of marketing too.

Before we get all up in arms, I'm not going to get all racist or anything. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants have as much right to be proud of their race and religion as anybody else, and they should. Many of our greatest leaders have fallen into that category, and their contributions are great. But we're talking about clothing here, not religion. Button down collars, striped ties, sack jackets and khakis do not belong exclusively to this tiny slice of the American pie. True, maybe the style did belong to them once, but that's been over for at least 30 year and probably more. Besides, even in the old days, when the sons of the captains of industry were busy combining these elements in a particular way to forge a "style", the clothes they were buying were coming from stores that were frequently owned by Jews, who had as much, if not much more, to do with the development of this style than their customers did. Jacob Press himself came up with a lot of these ideas in the first place, remember? And let's not forget the important role black jazz musician played in making this something that was actually "cool". My point is, race, religion and socio-economic standing don't have anything to do with a striped tie and a blue blazer, not anymore. It's about time we got over that.

Unless we're talking specifically about the places that are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth or the University of Pennsylvania, then the term simply does not apply. We should get over that, too. (see above). Besides, college kids tend to favor shorts, flip flops, and pajamas in public, even at the Ivy League schools.

This is the King Hell Dirty Fashion Word of them all. Allow me to apologize in advance if I step on any toes here. There's no two ways about it, I hate it. Maybe it meant something once, but now it only stands for costume. I'm going to go out on a limb and blame Lisa Birnbach. Why not? I never was a fan of The Official Preppy Handbook (or TOPH as people have taken to calling it in our too-fast-for-anything-but-abbreviations times) anyway. When someone says they dress "preppy", it usually means they've gotten pretty good at looking at ads for J. Crew and Polo and aping the look perfectly. It means they're playing dress up, and it's a term that belittles those people out there who actually get it, the one's who know what they're doing, the ones out there who really have style and continue to nail it on a daily basis. Those people tend not to use the word, tend in fact to be reviled by it. Tommy Hilfiger seems to love it. See my point? I will qualify it by saying that it's exponentially more infuriating when applied to mens clothes. For the ladies, it can be cute and even endearing.

I've had the idea for this post in my head for quite a while now, but I never went ahead with it. I know I'm likely to infuriate some people here, but what can you do? If I'm going to let that stop me, I might as well close up shop.Besides, I'll be the first to admit that I'm as guilty in this regard as anyone. True, I do try my best to avoid these terms, but I'm a sucker for the things they define. Hypocrisy? Maybe, but at least I can laugh at myself.

In closing, please enjoy this guys take on a certain other seven words:

Not safe for work, but funny as Hell.

20 September 2010

Teaser: Shiny Shoes at the Top Shelf Flea Market

A while back, Mrs. G. dug up this shoe shine box at a thrift store for $2.99.
The "Griffin Shinemaster". Sounds pretty serious, right? Shiniest shoes is town, right?

Years ago, kid brother was a shoe shine kid. He worked mainly in the Financial District of Boston. It's one of the few spots in town full of navy blue suits, white shirts, and black leather shoes during the week. He was pretty damn good at it too.

My brother and I are definitely brothers. We don't really look the same, or share all the same tastes, but you can tell. Sartorially speaking, we couldn't be more different. I'm a peacock, as you know. He'll wear the same pair of jeans everyday until our mother gets him some new ones for Christmas, and he's 31, God love'im. But back when he was shining shoes, whenever we'd see each other he'd have something critical to say about the state of my treads. "You're always so dressed up. You should really take better care of your shoes. Come on down the Financial District some time, I'll do 'em for free." Infuriating, but also pretty damned endearing.

Mrs. G., upon seeing this old box, bought it and suggested I give kid brother a call and get him to do shoe shines at the Affordable Wardrobe booth at the upcoming Top Shelf Flea Market. A great idea, to be sure. Come on down, grab a beer, get your shoes shined and tip the kid well. I'll have my copy of Take Ivy and some other picture books for grown men on hand to flip through while he fixes you up.

p.s. two booths are still available for Top Shelf II. If you have something to sell, or know someone who does, feel free to contact me at anaffordablewardrobe@yahoo.com for details. Records and housewares especially wanted, but all comers are welcome.

18 September 2010

In Between: The Sometimes Uniform

In between season can be tough.The extremes of either end are currently off limits. It's still too war for tweed and corduroy, but it's much too late for madras and Nantucket Reds. But people are funny, and they tend to like extremes. Some folks have already donned the down vest, others are still wearing shorts. My own old fashioned sensibilities leave me looking to dress both weather appropriate and seasonally appropriate. As such, I wind up adopting something of a uniform this time of year.But that's alright, it gives us an excuse to introduce a discussion of some important basics in the wardrobe of any well appointed gentleman:
Let's start with the lynch pin of the whole operation, the classic navy blazer with brass buttons. Admittedly, being something of a peacock I have a number of brass buttoned blazers, but I couldn't function without this one in hopsack. My green one is off beat, my flannel one is warm, and my tartan one is quite dandy, but this one is essential. No man's wardrobe is complete without something similar, and yet any man's wardrobe is at least practically complete with one. Paired with other basics, there are few sartorial situations in which a navy blazer isn't at least acceptable, and at best stylish and reserved. For dress occasions, pair it with charcoal dress slacks, a white shirt, and nearly any tie. For all other occasions...
Khakis. Few things are more classic. Currently, I have nine pair in the line up. From top to bottom, we have four pair of my "good" khakis, clean, crisp, in various tones. Below that, one pair in British moleskin, for colder days, followed by two old pair, a little ratty, for house chores and running errands. We may bemoan our overly casual times, but one advantage that the traditionally minded cheapskate has is that khakis are in abundance at the thrift stores.It's one of the few items you can actually go out and look for on purpose in these places. As my "good" ones get worn, and my worn ones get wrecked, I rotate them down, replacing the top of the stack with fresh "good" pairs. Ah, the cycle of life...
Dress shirts are a good place for a man to have some fun with pattern and color. But upon inspection I find nearly two thirds of my shirts to be in the blue family. Why? Because a blue shirt is always right. Oxford, pinpoint, gingham or stripes...the variations are endless but the truth is sound. 
Navy blazer, blue shirt, clean khakis, good shoes, and any tie in regimental stripe, foulard, or emblematic on a navy or burgundy ground. All the rest is fluff, really. And forgive me, I really do enjoy that hat.
On an off topic: Take Ivy may have been something of a disappointment for many, but if nothing else it reminded me how good clean khakis and loafers look with thick cotton crew socks. Instead of white, pastels are a lot snappier.

Khakis derive from the army. Blazers derive from the navy. I guess a uniforms a uniform to the bone. At least this one is optional.

17 September 2010

Update: Cheap Hat In Action

Remember the cheap rain hat I bought at Target a little while back? I love it. I've been wearing it near constantly, rain or shine, since I bought it.
It's been raining, or threatening to, with a fair amount of regularity lately. I find that the cheap hat finds an unexpected mate in the old Barbour jacket. Naturally, a Barbour is most at home with a tweed cap, but this one has a bit of the air of the old english bucket hat, just enough to tie it to the Barbour. Being khaki makes the hat a cinch against the deep olive green waxed cotton. On a sunny day, it works right into a blazer/khaki/blue shirt combo with ease. Goes pretty good with brown tortoise shell Ray Bans too.

Every now and then, I think I want a proper tweed bucket hat. But unless you're John Updike, it's unlike to look anything other than frumpy. This ones got a bit more shape, which keeps it just fresh enough. Truly, I never thought I'd ever really recommend something from Target, but whaddaya know?, this hat broke the mold.

All of this is, of course, merely my humble opinion.

p.s. comments are officially closed on the "Ink and Bow Ties" post. Talk about a raw nerve....

15 September 2010

Keeping It Simple (sort of...)

The "in-between" season, as I call it, is as tough as it is fun to dress for. While I do have more than a slight tendency to "push it", even I realize that there are times when the best policy is to just keep it simple.
Today it was sunny and temperate. Perfect weather for a cotton sweater. I've really been digging this pale yellow number lately (Polo, $3.99). It works well in many guises. Earlier today, I wore it with jeans and a white tennis shirt, no socks and penny loafers, for dropping the boy off at pre-school and taking the girl to the playground. Later, I find it cleans up nicely with grey slacks and a button down collar. Simple and classic. The hat is perhaps a touch of bravado, rendered in periwinkle blue pinwale corduroy, by Sackville & Jones of London, $175 marked down to $8.oo, at the long lost Filene's basement.
The trick here is color. Yellow and purple is a combo best saved for the Joker, but in soft pastels it adds a bit of interest, anything but boring.

Below, the dirty white bucks make the first of many post-Labor Day appearances, with grey wool slacks and socks in pale green (sea foam green? I guess so, but I always hated the term 'sea foam'. It sounds like it smells bad.)

I nearly added an ascot or bow tie to this one, but in the end I felt it was best to just keep it simple and let the colors and textures do the talking. I fully realize that these days many people see this outfit as a bit much, maybe even affected. The neckwear would have pushed it straight into costume territory. Funny how thin the line between well dressed and costume can be sometimes.

Be confident and enjoy yourself, but when in doubt, keep it simple.

14 September 2010

Ink and Bow Ties

I had been considering a post about my tattoos for a long time now. I tended to go back and forth on the subject. I know you've seen them, a little bit, in Summer posts where I'm wearing tennis shirts. But for every time I think I'll just come right out and show them, I remember how silly I think it is to go out of your way to get people to notice your tattoos and I reconsider. Then I saw this post on A Suitable Wardrobe, and my mind was made up to just come out and mention it.
So there they are, in their full glory. Paired with a white undershirt and blue jeans, natural counterparts.

So here's the thing: I have a lot of tattoos. I don't hide them on purpose, and I don't flash them
around on purpose either. I have them for myself, and I don't regret them one bit. I've never been in uniformed service, on a ship or otherwise, I've never been to prison, and I've never been a member of a motorcycle gang. I'm just a creative type of person, and I like artistic things. What can I say?

Every year when the weather warms, I get a lot of questions about them. Given the way I dress and carry myself, people are often surprised that I have them. It's confusing to see a bunch of tattoos poking out of the rolled up sleeve of a blue oxford shirt. People don't know what to make of it. I can understand that, I guess. But the fact of the matter is, there's just nothing to make of it.

I have my tattoos because I like them. True, there was a time when only certain admittedly undesirable types, would have them, but those days are long gone. This may be much to the chagrin of an older generation of folks, and I understand that too. But these days, this kind of stuff just doesn't matter anymore. It's not worth getting shocked over it. I'll admit, there are lots of times when it's best to keep them concealed. But if that's the case, chances are that the type of clothing that would reveal them is inappropriate anyway. The post on ASW focused on serving jury duty, and being appalled at all the t-shirts and tattoos. I agree, about the t-shirts, not the tattoos. The last time I served, I wore a blue shirt, striped tie and a blazer, with all those tattoos hiding underneath. I was dressed appropriately for the occasion. That's where the confusion enters it, I think. Many people just don't figure a tattooed fella to know how to dress, or carry himself, or behave in a courteous and professional manner. These days, that's just downright ignorant, sorry, but it is. What they fail to remember is that the heart surgeon who saved Grandpa's life last year is as likely to be tattooed as anyone.

I dress the way I do because I like it. I have my own sense of style, one that is informed by the lessons of my father, my time spent in menswear retail, and a Boston upbringing. Some folks find this infuriating too, because I'm not a WASP, or something. But really, clothes are clothes. Race and religion don't really matter when choosing a shirt and a tie, do they? Nor do tattoos, taste in music, political affiliation, or economic status. Clothing should express one's personality, but it doesn't have to deny the aspects of it that don't necessarily match. My tattoos do not mean that I should spend the rest of my days in a Harley Davidson t-shirt drinking canned beer on the street.

Men's clothing has always been full of rules. These days, they are mostly gone or irrelevant. It kind of a shame, because knowing those rules really helps a man to dress well. Lots of them were foolish, but most of them existed for good reasons. Being married to a set of rules that is carved in stone with no variation or room for interpretation is silly, in clothing and in life. I mostly wear plain front pants, but sometimes pleats are O.K. I prefer an un-darted jacket, but not always. I like white bucks after Labor Day. And I have a lot of tattoos. It's true, I've preached on here before about our current lack of style and decorum in general as a society, and I would love to see a return of the generally well appointed gentleman. But I would never wish to see people sacrifice individuality in the name of being well dressed. That's not style, that's just conformity at it's worst.

I've always believed it was best to embrace all aspects of one's personality, that there's no reason why one person can't have several different ideas. That's how tattoos and a bow tie find there way into the same ensemble. In a time where young girls go out to the liquor store for a six pack in their bed clothes, nothing about what I do should be considered freaky.

Enough ranting. Tomorrow it's back to playing "dress up".

p.s. I have in the past had my moments of rage about A Suitable Wardrobe, but kudos to Will for including my coment in his discussion of tattoos and menswear.

10 September 2010


The navy blazer with brass buttons is a well established essential item in the wardrobe of a well appointed gentleman. I've heard it said by better writers with more authority than me that a man could survive with only a navy blazer and a pair of charcoal slacks, a couple of white shirts and a couple blue, a few ties, a pair of brown loafers and a pair of black lace-ups and successfully survive nearly any sartorial situation. But this post isn't about navy blazers.

In the past, there were times when a blazer in dark green was a secondary alternative to the standard navy. I stress the word "secondary". The dark green blazer is not for the faint of heart, and it's a tough nut to crack. I've always wanted one, and I've experimented over the years, but never with complete success. Until today, I think.

Before we continue, a qualifier on color and photography is in order. All colors have variation of tone and temperature within a family. Green can be brown, or blue, or even yellow. One shade can look good on a guy, and the next can make him look like he's got a skin condition. Additionally, it's hard to photograph; additionally I'm no photographer, and my camera is cheap; additionally, every computer makes things look different. So bear with me and trust my descriptions of the photos that follow.

I always figured the green blazer would be nice in the Fall, given that it's an earth-tone. Yesterday, I tried one with a simple blue pinpoint shirt, stripes bow tie and paisley square. The blue shirt keeps things just conservative enough, but the bits of gold in the tie and square give life to a drab color....maybe.

Since we are in the midst of the "in between" , and it was bright and warm that day, I kept it fresh with some crisp khakis and some pale yellow cotton socks, picking up on the gold up top.

Not bad, but not all there. Swap the green jacket for navy and the whole thing would have been downright classic. So any problems I have with this are in the jacket. For one, the tone is way too brown, too dreary. Also, this jacket is actually the top half of a suit, one that I could never really pull off, either. That's not altogether impossible to do, but in this case, the cloth is all wrong, and I really think a brass buttoned blazer is best with patch and flap pockets. You don't have to tell me, I should have known better. Still, I'd love to find the perfect green blazer.

So today, I find this jacket. A proper green blazer, in a brighter shade more in the blue family, for $6.99. It needs some minor alteration, and clearly a cleaning and pressing are in order. I estimate the final cost of this one to be about $25.

Brooks Brothers "346", early seventies vintage by my guess. Which means this is way before the "346" label was a strictly made for the outlet affair. Inside one of the pockets is a tag stating that it came from a Brooks Brothers factory. You see, once upon a time a brand name was more than just a tag in the neck.

Rendered in thick, but soft flannel. All the details are there: patch and flap pockets, undarted front, 3/2/ roll, but the corker is the open patch breast pocket. Bonus points! I fully expect to get a lot of Master's Tournament and pool table cracks over this one. Can't wait! It's going to be perfect with grey flannels or cavalry twills, under a camel coat.

As though all this weren't enough, the thing is fitted with a full set of real bone scrimshaw buttons. Why anyone would put something as Summery as scallop shells on a green flannel coat is beyond me, but once again we score bonus points. Those buttons will eventually find their proper home on some seersucker, hopefully by next Summer. Until then, I think I'll stash them.

As luck would have it, just two weeks ago my father saw this set of brass buttons in a knick knack shop, and picked them up for me. He said he thought of me when he saw them, and he knew I'd find a good jacket for the to live on. Right away, I was on a mission to find the perfect green coat. Boy, that didn't take long at all. Interestingly, these buttons have the same crest on them as the buttons on my J.Press hopsack blazer, the one I wear every other day until the cold weather comes, when I retire it in favor of one in flannel.

And while we're on the topic, remember this one? I was determined to prove you all wrong, but you were right. This thing is just wrong. I wore it once, but the minute I got to work I took it off. I thought a change of buttons would do this one good, but there's no saving it. I guess I'll just donate it back to charity, but really no one should wear this jacket, unless they're dressing as an S.S. waiter at a Nazi charity ball for Halloween. Even then you could do better. Oh well, we all have our moments, I guess.

Green jackets are tough, but not impossible. If you're feeling bold, give one a try, but be careful. It's important here to be extra picky. Don't buy until you find the right one. I tried to talk myself into the wrong one twice, with various results, all some degree of negative. But I'm sure I've got the right one now.

You'll see.

08 September 2010

New England Scrimshaw

When I was still in high school, I bought a wonderful scrimshaw tie clip while on a family vacation on Cape Cod. I loved that thing, and for all these years I've worn it often (see it worn to great effect here, as well as in many other past blog posts). Then, alas, one day I lost it. It was the day of my "Live Appearance" at Raspberry Beret. It was hot that day, so I brought my jacket and tie with me. I put the old tie bar in the pocket of my vintage charcoal grey slacks. Unfortunately, vintage slacks frequently come with vintage holes, this time in the right hand pocket. I stopped off to get o.j. for the mimosas, and I never saw the old piece again. Enter Originals by Pierce & Co., of Littleton Massachusetts, just across the bay from New Bedford...you know, like in Moby Dick.

Flush from the sale of some of my own brand of "well curated vintage Americana", I ran a Google search for "scrimshaw tie clip", or something. I wound up at the Pierce website, a website so quaint in its very 1997-ness that I was immediately reminded of the pleasant experience I had a while back with Arrow Moccasins. They offer a wide range of scrimshaw products, from knives to jewelry, to carved teeth, and even a really killing shaving set. Pieces are made to order. Everything they make can be done on shed antler (i.e. antlers naturally shed by the animal and later gathered in the woods), which is what I opted for, or for a bit more on fossil ivory (i.e. old ivory found in Alaska). You get to pick the design, and they even do custom work. My piece arrived a scant two weeks after placing the order, a mere $28 shipped. Seriously.
It arrived in a small jewelry box lined in cotton with this business card sized certificate of authenticity. Usually, such certificates are totally bogus, but in this case it's the icing on the cake.

The back of the card offers a lovely write up of the kind lady who actually made this thing.
I could get all descriptive and flowery, but I won't, because I don't have to. Buy something from these people now. You won't be disappointed. Take my word for it.

06 September 2010

The Real Thing

When I was a kid, my Grandparents would take my brother and I on the subway into the North End, Boston's Italian neighborhood, every Saturday morning. And every Saturday we would get lunch at the Galleria Umberto. In a world where so many things change, so much comes and goes so quickly, it's truly a rare pleasure to visit this place with my own kids, and share something with them that I did when I was their age. (misty eyes...)
This little sign over a simple metal grate in a brick wall is all there is to announce the place's presence to the world.

You wait in this line. It was relatively short, meaning, I didn't have to join it outside on the sidewalk, which is frequently the case. Umberto's opens at 11:00 a.m., and closes when they run out of food, usually around 2:00. The line may seem long, but these old guys can handle it, and you'll be eating sooner than you think.

You order from this simple and sparse menu. The prices may have changed, only just a little, in the thirty years that I've been a customer, but the selection has always remained exactly the same. Order anything, it's all delicious, but the arancini are worth committing a crime for. As luck would have it, the last one sold to the young lady in front of me in the line. Lucky for her I was in a good mood, and with the children.

Sit and eat beneath this mural of Italy by Vito Ascolillo (whoever that may be, God love 'im). I loved this painting when I was a kid.

For lunch, one panzarotti (on the left), a sort of mashed potato croquette filled with mozzarella, coated with breadcrumbs and fried, one of what they call panini, a crusty roll filled with ham, cappocola and provlone, and an 8 oz. plastic cup filled to the brim with ice cold red wine, probably Carlo Rossi. Both red and white wines are stored in giant lemonade tanks with a spigot on the front on the bottom shelf of the soda fridge. I've worked in the wine business for ten years now and I know a lot about fine wine, which is exactly why I order this stuff. Because when you're eating Sicilian style street foot off of a dented metal tray, the only correct wine is cheap and cold and served in a disposable cup. All this, plus three slices of their famous pizza for the kids and a can of Fanta orange soda: $11.00. Incredible!

If you live in or around Boston and you haven't been here, shame on you. If you visit Boston and you miss the place, shame on you. Should you be feeling touristy, Paul Revere's house is just around the corner, and the Freedom Trail runs right by it.

Should you be lucky enough to visit the place in the company of children, there's a nice little playground up the street, behind the Paul Revere monument, wedged in an alley between the back side of two apartment building, a firehouse and a school. It's a nice enough playground, one of these pre-fab jobbies you see everywhere. Nothing special, but the kids enjoyed it. However...

the real score here are the hop-scotch courts. Besides having a mundane "normal" one, there's also one in Roman numerals...

and another in the Fibonacci Sequence. The four square court, which I couldn't get a good photo of because of the tight corner this little playground is squeezed into, has the Golden Section painted on it. Way to celebrate some good old Italian innovation.

The North End may have changed some since the early eighties, but as far as I'm concerned, it's still the real thing.

p.s. I know I've mentioned this place before, but I think it's special enough to carry two posts.