30 December 2011

Reader Questions: Old Shoes

I find nearly everything I own in a thrift store. While it's true that years of experience and practice have led me to a fair degree of success in this, the fact remains that some items are simply easier to come by than others. Take ties, for example. Once you stumble into a honey-hole, you tend to find that 99 cent neckwear is fairly abundant. They don't experience the wear and tear of other items, being purely decorative. Shoes, on the other hand, are another beast entirely.
Reader Don asks:
I have a question about buying shoes. I've read about reshaping and all of that, so I know there are some restoration options, but how worn is too worn? Any tips on buying used dress shoes? All I've seen around town so far are very creased and discolored.

Good quality shoes in good condition are perhaps the hardest thing of all for a man to find in a thrift shop. For obvious reasons, shoes are the clothing item exposed to the harshest wear and tear. We walk in them, on pavement. We scuff them against things. They get sweaty on the inside. We wear them on our feet for extended periods of time, often for periods lasting years. A favorite pair is a treasured item, even for people who don't realize or won't admit it, and so they are often the last things we want to part with. Men tend to wear their shoes until they fall to pieces.

Besides all this, shoes are submitted to undue abuse in the processing phase between donation and selling time. Think of it: a guy decides to donate some shoes, and they get tossed in a garbage bag along with a bunch of other stuff. The thrift shop gets them, and tosses them loose in an industrial hamper with a million other pairs. They may get sorted through a number of these bins, always tossed in with a heap of other shoes. Maybe they get tied together in pairs by the laces. Maybe not. Eventually, they go out for sale some place. A sordid affair.

This may be bleak news for the man cracked enough (like me) to dedicate obscene amounts of time and effort into acquiring a closet full of the rich man's cast offs, but there is a bright side. Good shoes are made to last a long time, and hence are worth repair, and the best shoes tend to be owned by those who take care of them, and thus have more years left in them if given a little repair.

Quality leather can take a beating, so all is not lost. As with anything, look for quality and don't settle for junk. This is especially true with shoes. Not only do crappy shoes look bad and have a cheesy feel to them, they're uncomfortable as well. Steer clear of stuff that was crap in the first place...it will have only gotten crappier.

So, how worn is to worn is the real question. The answer depends largely on whether you have access to a good cobbler.  If the answer is yes, then it's a good bet that shoes that many might consider wrecked are your goldmine. Worn heels, holes in the sole, or soles breaking away from the shoe, as well as peeling linings or stitching that's come loose, are all things that your cobbler can put right. It won't be cheap, though, so you have to decide what you're willing to invest. I might buy a pair of quality shoes by Allen Edmonds or Alden for less than $10, then pay the cobbler up to $100 to repair them. For me, $110 is short change for fine shoes. $110 buys junk new at DSW. Catch my drift?

Some shoes are just over the hill. Avoid anything with holes or cracks in the leather itself. Creases in the leather are not always the kiss of death, as polish and mink oil, plus a good pair of cedar shoe trees, can usually fix this, but a hole is a deal breaker. The vast majority of shoes at thrift stores were worthless to begin with, and junk is junk. I won't buy it new, I certainly won't buy it old. The rule of persistence in thrift shopping is of exponential importance when it comes to shoes, but when it pays off, it tends to do so in spades. Be patient.

Having said all that, if there's one thing worth coughing up full retail for, besides the requisite socks and underwear, its good shoes. They may be expensive, but good ones will last a very long time, and your $15 suit and 99 cent tie will look infinitely better when complimented by proper shoes. In fact, I'm gearing up for a new pair or two myself, likely to be the topic of a new "Worth Every Penny" post.

So, in closing, George Harrison, on vinyl :

p.s. don't forget the sale in the Shop. 15% off all orders over $50 through midnight Saturday. Use discount code NEWYEAR2012 at checkout.

28 December 2011

The Jams

In the old days, I worked in a down and dirty crazy thrift shop. We had a record department. Not like we just sold records, we actually had a full blast record department, and I was in charge of it. This meant that besides organizing and pricing all the records, it was also my job to go out and find them. I loved it. Once, when I was out scouring the globe for slabs of vinyl, at the tender age of 24, anno Domini 2000 or so, I acquired a heap of r&b for the shop. Among it was the self titled first album by Funkadelic.
By this time in my life, I had heard of Parliament Funkadelic, or "P-Funk". I knew all about George Clinton. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg had made my generation aware of them. But 1969 era original Funkadelic was something else entirely. Sure, the outrageous outfits and showmanship of the later years would steal the show, what with Bootsy Collins and all. But this old stuff was raw, simple, drect and grimy. Funk in its purest, undistilled form. Funk driven by gospel harmony, Hammond organs, Fender and Gibson guitars, and Gretsch drums. Funk that still has the stink of Jazz on its boot heel. Funk with a meaning far deeper than simple goof ball, pimped out party jams. I was hooked the minute I got this record home, and 10 years later it remains a precious favorite. In all these years, its the only record I know of that can actually make you feel a little like you've been smoking weed, given of course that you know what that's like in the first place.


correction: Rogers drums, not Gretsch. Equally good, if not better.

p.s. A black man in a purple satin KKK robe with police style sunglasses. How are you gonna argue with that?


An Affordable Wardrobe Shop is having an end of year sale!
From now until midnight Saturday, 31 December, all orders over $50 are 15% off. Use discount code NEWYEAR2012 at checkout. All orders received by the end of the sale will ship Wednesday, 4 January via USPS priority mail.

24 December 2011

Joy in the Air...

Sure, I work retail and I may have groused more than a bit about Christmas meaning all work and no play for a guy like me, but at the last minute, humanity comes through. The kind owner of the Indian/Nepali restaurant across the street gave us dinner on the house, a delicious lamb tikka masala, and a co-worker/friend, who happens to be something of a nerdly collector, generously shared some selections from his private cellar...
...not least of which was this bottle of 1860 rye whiskey (more on that later, ethereal). Yes, it's real, and yes, it's delicious.

Enjoy the holiday, one and all. We'll be back sometime next week with new installments of your beloved superficial drivel.

23 December 2011

The Jams

"Jingle Bells" is not a Christmas song. It's a Winter Jam written in in a bar in Medford, Massachusetts, not far from wher I have lived all my life, in  1857. It's about drinking and driving and picking up girls, in an innocent, 19th century New England kind of way (not kidding). You know, a party song.

I bet these two drank that whole bowl of punch between them in an hour, then took the Cadillac out for a spin. Probably left the car in a ditch and wound up in a casino. Same idea.

20 December 2011

Holiday Cheer

Given the fact that Christmas is a mere few days off, it occurs to me that there has been a real lack of holiday cheer around here. The reasons for that are twofold. First, it's been unseasonably warm here in Massachusetts for months. Everyone around me seems to love this, but not I. This is a clothing blog, after all, and my best stuff is the Winter goods, including my extensive collection of wool Tartan trousers, none of which have gotten any use this season. Secondly, being in retail, this season means less fun and more work for me, and little else. Good thing I've got the kids to keep me cheery.

Anyway, I did actually manage to get invited to and attend one Christmas party last weekend, so the custom holiday shirt got at least one airing:
Worn with a navy emblematic tie, and a 6x2 double breasted navy blazer. The double breasted helps keep this relatively in check, with it's high closure point. See, maybe not as silly as you thought.

Silk knot cuff links. Shiny metal would have been way too much, in an outfit that is likely already way too much.

Charcoal flannels and black shoes. Bright red socks at a Christmas party are de rigeur. The perfect ensemble for drinking too much Scotch and stumbling home. Ho Ho Ho!

p.s. new items in the Shop. I've been a busy little elf this month.

16 December 2011

Reader Questions

Just because you got it cheap don't mean you ain't got to have it fitted. A good alterations tailor is your best friend.
Reader Toby asks:

My personal style is frumpier than it should be, and that fact that I am a natural born cheapskate seems to play a role in this situation. Your emphasis on "affordable" appeals to me, and I've always loved thrift stores. So I am right there with you when you report on the $7.53 you spent on a handmade vintage jacket!

My question is: when you spend less than $10 on an article of vintage clothing, do you then end up spending $50 getting it fixed up and tailored to fit properly? How does this factor into purchasing decisions?

An excellent question, to be sure.

Not so long ago, it was understood that "off the rack" clothing was something meant to be altered. It was good stuff, made to a standard. But no reputable shop would allow the customer to leave with his purchase on the spot. Men knew that when they bought a jacket or a suit, they would expect to pick it up properly fitted at least a week to ten days later.

These days we live in a culture of instant gratification. This has innumerable unfortunate side effects, none the least of which is men running around in badly fitted clothing. 

A man should always have his clothes properly fitted. This applies as much if not more in the case of cheap old stuff, as we discuss it here.

When I find an old gem and try it on, I always have one eye on the alterations. I know what can't be altered: the shoulders. Any jacket that doesn't fit your shoulders is not worth buying at any price, as it will never be comfortable. I also know what can be altered.

Sleeves can always be altered, within reason. Shortening sleeves an inch or so is a fairly commonplace alteration at the local dry cleaners costing between $12-$15 many places. Lengthening sleeves is no more difficult an operation, but it is trickier. Old clothes can leave a line where an old hem was, so watch out for this. The same principle applies to trousers: shortening is easy, lengthening is tricky.

Side seams can always be taken in, but may show a mark is you let them out. As always, look for clothing of quality that has clearly been well cared for by it's previous owner.

As for money: If I find a beautiful garment for a buck or two, I will gladly spend up to $60 on alterations. The way I figure, $2 purchase + $40 alteration= really nice jacket that fits like a glove for $42. You could buy a crappy Chinese sweatshop jacket from the Gap for twice as much in size  S M L in the mall. Need I say more?

Regardless of where and how you buy your clothes and what you spend on them, I do wholeheartedly recommend that any man find a good alterations tailor he can trust. Make a friend of him, because even though you may be the one with an eye for quality and a bargain, in the end he will be the one to make you look really good.

p.s. the Shop is bursting at the seams! See it.

12 December 2011

A Fusion of Opposites

I recently got caught up watching a lot of old episodes of Firing Line with William F. Buckley over at that gargantuan time-suck known as Youtube. Good stuff, even if you don't agree with Buckley, which I generally don't. In any case, this choice bit featuring Allen Ginsberg in 1968 has me thinking a lot about the mens fashion/blog climate of the last few years, specifically the fact that nearly everything we've collectively been prattling on about is encapusalted in distilled form in these two very opposite men:

On the one hand, William F. Buckley is the very picture of this beast we now refer to as Trad/WASP/Preppy style. Only in his case it's not a "style", because it was 1968 and he actually was a patrician conservative figure. Sack suit, button down oxford, narrow gingham check tie, double soled shoes. All of it crumpled, worn, and slouchy while being perfectly "correct".

On the other hand, Ginsberg, whom Buckley refers to in his introduction as "the hippie's hippie, the Bohemian prototype", presents us with the Well-Curated-Authentic-Heritage-Americana-Urban-Lumberjack-Hipster-Band-Guy prototype. Jeans, no doubt USA made Levi's or some such, probably "selvedge", suede dessert boots, shirt, tie and tweed jacket topped with huge beard and even the requisite heavy rimmed glasses.

What's funny is the fact that as we view the screen, Buckley is on the left and Ginsberg is on the right. (Get it?)

It's not so surprising that we haven't really managed to come up with anything new since 1968. Immutability is one of the hallmarks of most menswear. What is interesting is the fact that fashion has become a fusion of opposites, borrowing heavily from two distinct styles that meant very different things to very different people in their time.

In some way I suppose people are a bit like that these days too, more grey and less black and white. Clothing aside, watching this video I find that I actually like and agree with both men, though they don't like or agree with each other at all. That's the future for you I guess.

p.s. new stuff in the Shop today, more over the next few. I know it's a bit shameless when I end my posts with these little plugs, but business is business you know. Please browse and thank you for your custom.

13 Dec., 7:48 am, Correction: Not "dessert boots", rather "desert boots". Oops.

09 December 2011

Progressing in Reverse : Straight Razor Shaving

An Affordable Wardrobe would like to thank the good folks at Heritage Shaving for their support, and I am happy to announce our first product giveaway contest. Read on for a chance to win a free straight razor starter kit:
Back at the beginning of November, Heritage Shaving, a tiny company run by a nice kid looking to drum up some cash to defray the cost of grad school, signed on as our first advertiser. I received a straight razor starter kit and started using it, admittedly with a little trepidation at first. It takes no small amount of courage for a modern man to take a surgically sharp knife to his throat in the morning, but that's a hurdle worth conquering.

At first, it took me over a half an hour, moving at a snail's pace, to give myself a shave that was only so-so. The nostalgic fetishism was kind of cool, but the ritual had me enthralled. In case you haven't read this blog before, I am a dead sucker for time consuming antiquated rituals. And that's what this was then, an antiquated ritual. But it quickly became more.

It's funny how we sometimes find the good stuff by moving steadily backward. In high school, I shaved with triple bladed, lubricated, silly expensive something or others, and aerosol shaving foam. A splash of Old Spice to follow. Later, I switched from the aerosol to a brush and mug, but kept the high tech gizmo razor. A splash of Old Spice to follow. Later still, I began using my Grandfather's safety razor. Some bits of toilet paper and a splash of Old Spice to follow. After years of this, the straight razor, the method of choice for men until 60 years ago, comes into the picture. At first, it was a once or twice a week treat. As I gained confidence, I came to look forward to it. Now, I use it every day, unless I'm in a screaming hurry, in which case I opt for the old safety razor. As always, a splash of Old Spice to follow.

Shaving this way is often the only time in a given day when I slow down and take a few moments to concentrate on myself. It's therapeutic. Its contemplative. It reminds me that in our mad rush forward at breakneck speed, we humans as a race may not always be progressing. It reminds me that new isn't always better, and that sometimes we realize that we hit the pinnacle long ago and that every thing since may be a downhill ride...kinda like how stereo technology hit it's peak in the mid 1970s. Besides, its extremely masculine, and its kinda tough. That may be silly, its true. But for a guy who spends all day caring for two small kids, and all night geeking out about either wine or clothes, a small dose of masculinity is the least you can afford me.

So...you tell me in the comments why you think scraping your neck and cheeks with a knife is a better idea that dragging expensive plastic cartridges across your face that will at worst cut you and at best give you a mediocre shave. Keep it relatively brief....most thoughtful answer wins a shaving kit, pictured above, which includes a Dovo razor from Germany, leather strop, stainless steel mug, badger brush,  shaving cream, oil, and knick stick. Contest open all weekend, winner chosen Sunday evening.

Update: Sunday, 11 December, 10:00a.m. EST. I'm truly overwhelmed by your excellent responses to this post. Thank you everyone who commented. I'm especially impressed with how many of you saw this topic as a springboard into things of vastly greater importance than merely cleaning up in the morning. You clearly understand how fraught with meaning these things can/should be. Commenting is now closed. We'll sift through all this and a winner will be chosen tonight, so stay posted.

And the Winner Is.....Bostonhud. Oddly enough, this was our very first entry. Many of you delved deep into the more esoteric meaning behind the modern day adoption of an archaic grooming method, which is exactly what we were aiming for. Topics such as connection with the past, contemplation, and a more thoughtful assessment of our modern day culture of speed and convenience above all else were frequently raised. But it was Bostonhud's haiku which managed to convey all of this in only three short lines:

Men seek old stories
Grandpa's hat, father's bow tie
give my son my shave

Congratulations, Bostonhud. Contact me through email at anaffordablewardrobe@yahoo.com with a mailing address and we'll get your prize out post haste.

If you're only just reading this,  the contest is closed. But do read the comments. It's enlightening to see how many men there are out there, many of them young, who don't necessarily buy all that the worlds been selling lately.

08 December 2011

Secrets of Thrifiting : Strategic Eavesdropping

Just t'other day, I hit one of my favorite watering holes. I found a few things, and headed to the front desk to purchase them happily. As the kindly clerk was toting up my purchases, I heard the couple behind me explain to the couple behind them: "this place is o.k. But you gotta go to the one in H********. They've got the best stuff." My ears perked, and I turned to spy who was talking. A couple in their 60s, the wife wearing a knockout vintage knee length Barbour coat, not unlike this, only knee length, and perfectly weathered, so cool:
...with old jeans, L.L.Bean rubber mocs, and a turtle neck sweater. Immediately, it registers with me that not only do these people appear to be old pros at this game, but they also seem to share my aesthetic.Out in the car, I look up the new location straightaway, and head there at once. Within minutes, I am laden with more than I can carry.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled, and observe the other folks around you. They can offer clues to the next big score.

p.s. my good fortune is your good fortune. The Shop is busting with new stuff, more to be added over the weekend. Check it out.

05 December 2011

The Holiday Shirt

The results are in on my most recent foray into the world of so-called "online custom" tailoring, and this time they are relatively favorable. I have to say I'm mostly pleased with the execution of my idea for a dress shirt for holiday parties:
Bright red tartan with a spread collar and French cuffs. Unconventional, of course. But when any maker's size 15 1/2 x 33 shirt fits reasonably well, as it does me, there's no point in having something as mundane as a white shirt made. I plan on wearing this with an emblematic or simple striped tie, grey flannel trousers, and either navy blazer or tweed jacket for festive occasions. I'd say something like "Christmas parties", but having two kids and working night hours in retail, the holiday season rarely has anything to do with parties and celebrations for me (Scrooge).

When ordering the shirt, the first line of questioning involves height, weight and general body type.  Following that is a more detailed set of measurements. In each case, a guess is entered for you, and I was surprised to note that in every case the guess was within a 1/2 inch of my entry. So far, so good.

Choosing fabric is always the hardest part with these things. Actually touching the fabric from which your garment will be produced beforehand is a key step in the actual custom process, sorely lacking in the online experience. It will always be a gamble. In this particular case I won, with a nice mid weight cotton poplin.

The shirt was delivered in just over two weeks, lickety split. That's kinda crazy, but true.

This thing fits me beautifully. The eight button front and extra long tails insure it won't come untucked. The collar is rigid and slightly high, as an English style spread should be. The French cuffs fit close without being restrictive. The buttons are pretty good, maybe not top notch, and the pattern matching in places, particularly the sleeve plackets, leaves a pinch to be desired. The button holes are stitched in white, where a color better matching the pattern such as red would have been preferred. Then again, had I paid for it the shirt would only have cost $54, cheapest I've seen yet for something like this, and cheaper by far than many ready made options. I guess that makes this a bargain, especially when one considers what Ralph will sell you for $165.
And you thought my shirt was way out of bounds. At least it's not pleated. Though I will freely admit that if there were any chance at all I'd be donning the black tie for any reason this month, I'd be lusting after this one, too. But I bet I'd have Tailor4Less make me one for $54 before I'd pay that kind of scratch. To be sure, an atrocious waste of money in either case, but a fella can dream, can't he?

Now all I need is a good party or two to attend. Anyone want to move their bash from Friday or Saturday to a Monday or Tuesday night when I'm not working late? (lousy retail Christmas season...grumble, grumble).

03 December 2011

United Nations

I write about men's clothes, and being from Boston, my own experience and personal style lies heavily in the classic American East Coast camp. While "Made in USA" have of late become nearly holy writ on a clothing label, I'm not one to marry myself to such a narrow field of vision. Last time I checked, the Europeans knew their way around the finer things too.
The general look of today's ensemble is in many ways rooted in the British countryside. Tweed jacket, broad glen checks, informal tie( the other perfect knit tie; silk with white dots) and a yellow vest, all brought down from the equestrian tradition. A tab collar on the shirt would have been great here, but a short pointed spread works pretty good, too.
The jacket hails from the quintessential American brand, Brooks Brothers. A recent piece, made of fine, soft wool, $7.49. Continental/Neapolitan details, such as soft shoulders, high gorge two button front and four button cuffs define this coat...

...as well they might, given its Italian provenance. Truthfully, I prefer my Brooks Brothers old, undarted and American, but a piece like this for practically nothing is too good to pass up.

The Brothers strike again with the tie, and once again we have the Italians to thank for it.

The yellow/buff vest is a very English convention when rendered in soft doeskin. This one, a vintage number likely from the early 1960s, is knitted of fine wool, maybe merino, and has a killer vintage pocket detail and tiny side vents.

Once again, the Italians are to blame. Full fashioned...good thing, I just hate it when my clothes are only partial fashioned.
Below, a favorite pair of vintage charcoal worsted slacks, well fitted yet narrow enough to remain in keeping with the overall continental vibe here, with chocolate brown suede USA made Allen Edmonds shoes, and silly skull and bones socks...just to drive you crazy.
A real Bavarian Alpine hat, adorned with a vintage hat pin from the Andover Shop, is the whipped  cream on top.

And since my birthday is this weekend, my parents, as usual and despite my yearly protest, gave me a card full of money with the instructions that it not be spent on anything responsible. In the past I've used this money to pay a bill, or something. This year, I decided instead to do it right. A lunch of sushi and a Sapporo is in keeping with the days theme of internationalism...
...as was the bag of drink that came hone with me tonight. Chateau Tariquet 15 year old Bas Armagnac, from France, was a gift from the job ( working in a wine shop has its advantages). Bunnahabhain 12 year old single Islay malt Scotch and Kopke Colheita 1997 Port rounded out my own use of the birthday cash. Consider my house "Winterized" as it were. A man's got to keep warm, you know.

shop news: the Shop has more items than ever, including most recently some choice coats and other outerwear. You've got to keep warm too, you know.

30 November 2011

The Perfect Casual Tie

A tie, despite what the world in general may think today, is not always a dressy thing. A knit tie and button down collar is a great way to look put together and casual at the same time. I recently acquired what I think may be perfect casual knit tie:
Navy blue, the stripes end before the knot, a nice touch. While my shirt is pressed, I opted for no starch in the interest of softness. A tweed jacket, khakis and tassel loafers finish the job.
Vintage 1960s wool and mohair "Heathernit" by Rooster. Rooster was the maker of choice for square end knit ties in their day, a great brand to look for at the thrift shops. $1.99.
p.s. the Shop is brimming with new goods, including shoes, tweed jackets, flannel trousers, leather, suede, and a ton of ties. Check out the new "Most recent items" feature in the side bar for a quick look.

28 November 2011

The Jams

So many people have this misconception that jazz music is some kind of exclusive club reserved only for snobs and highfalutin intellectuals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jazz can be, and often is, a downright freak out (if a minimally controlled and structured one).

People who over think things like jazz and other forms of art are like people who always want to know "what are you so dressed up for?", or worse "who died?" every time they see a man in a tie: they just don't get it.

27 November 2011

Patience is a Virtue

Three years ago, in the earlier days of this blog, I felt compelled to post every day. When I had nothing to write about, I'd put up a silly haiku (remember those?) like this.

Just last week I found these:
$4.99 at an undisclosed thrift shop. No brand name, but quality construction, likely from Berle or Hertling or some such respectable manufacturer who does work for all the fine men's shops we swoon over.

Patience is a virtue. Please have some patience when I finally don these silly things...and you know that I will.

p.s. new stuff in the Shop.

25 November 2011

Letter to the Editor (Hope Yet for the Future)

Writing this blog is largely a labor of love, but can be a richly rewarding experience. This is especially true  when I find that I have in some way managed to have a positive influence on a young person. Cal it my fatherly instinct talking, but few things are as meaningful as teaching someone something they found to be important. Reader Brandon, a 21 year old college student in the South, recently wrote me a downright humbling email. It is with his permission that I present an excerpted version of it here. We curmudgeons do like to grouse about the current state of things, but there may be hope for the future yet. For that I am thankful.

Brandon writes:

This past summer, I had a sartorial awakening. It started when I got a summer job that required me to "dress up." I was required to wear slacks, a button down shirt, and a tie every weekday this summer…. At first I dreaded it due to the extreme heat here in Louisiana, but after the first couple of weeks, I grew to love it. People were always complimenting me and I always got pleasant looks from attractive ladies when I ran errands after work. On top of that, I just felt more professional and I took more pride in everything I did. I liked the intoxicating effect it had on me.

From middle school through the first couple of years of college, I was into the punk/ska scene and skateboarded. I was a regular at the skate park and the local punk venue. Thus, my usual attire consisted of old skate or band shirts, Dickie's pants, tight jeans with holes and patches, skate shoes, and the other usual adornments of such a scene. I loved it.

During college, my mindset had changed. I had grown up and matured past my punk ideals. Though I had changed on the inside, my clothing failed to reflect that. So I decided that I no longer wanted to be looked at as a childish, rebellious punk, but rather as a professional young adult. I decided that when I returned to college for my senior year, I would dress like a stylish adult. I would not wear another tshirt, but rather always wear button up shirts or polos to class and social functions.

I quickly realized that I didn't have enough money to expand my wardrobe much. College doesn't leave much extra money for you. I knew that the best thing to do would be to save up for quality pieces rather than getting the disposable junk I had worn so much of my life. I started saving but was torn when I couldn't buy the things I wanted to wear. Then, one fateful day about a month ago, I came across your blog. I was overjoyed at the various clothing items you bought for so little at thrift shops… Using the knowledge I gained from your blog, I have already started shopping at thrift shops and have had some success. I don't usually see the labels you tend to see (unfortunately, there aren't many fine clothing shops where I live and thus, not much fine discarded clothing), but I have learned to look for other things such as the feel of the material, the quality of the construction, where it was made, and pattern matching. Honestly, pattern matching is something I had never even thought of before, but once you had pointed it out to me, it is something I could never overlook again.

Just so you know, my progress so far is amazing. Apparently, it's pretty easy to impress people on a college campus. I am always turning heads. And though I figure probably half of those are to poke fun at the kid wearing a collared shirt and penny loafers, the other half more than make up for it. Besides, if there is one thing that the punk culture taught me, it's to do what you want. It's actually kind of funny that dressing well is almost an act of rebellion today. Anyway, all of my friends love my new sartorial change and whole-heartedly support it. It has even got some of them considering dressing better… I started out wearing a button down shirt with chinos and nicer shoes. I then moved on to adding a tie and cardigan in the cooler weather. And now, I am proud to say that I am planning to buy my first bow tie. A year ago, I would have never thought such a thing was possible.

Though my self-confidence is certainly not based upon the clothes I wear, I feel more confident with how I present myself now. I think that is one thing that people miss when they dress so slovenly all of the time. As silly as it sounds, I feel more comfortable with speaking up in class and sharing my ideas. Even if I am wrong, at least I look damn good being wrong. I have never been one to be quiet or shy so that isn't really the difference; it just seems like people listen more attentively and take me more seriously now that I'm the guy in the tie and not the guy in the band shirt.

Thank you Brandon. For someone barely out of his teen years, you have stricken an early and decisive blow against the dread Eternal Teenager Syndrome. 

23 November 2011

First of the Season (Old Favorites)

I love a big fat pair of light grey flannel pants, and I revel in the first days cold enough to warrant them:
I am constantly compelled to pair these burly pants with bright yellow socks (see here, here, and here, here too...and those are just the instances comitted to the internet). Big fat wool to keep us warm, bright yellow to remind us that the sun doesn't stop shining in the cold, even if it does set much sooner.

Happy Autmn, everybody...finally!

24 November: Correction, "Autumn".

21 November 2011

A Wedding In the North Country

My absence here in the last few days can be explained by my presence over the weekend at yet another old friends wedding on the coast of Maine. Ever since Mrs. G. and I opened the old marriage and children door eight years back it seems all the old boys are stepping through, one by one. Coastal Maine in November may seem like an unusual choice for an outdoor ceremony, but the weather was beautiful, if a little brisk, and the newlyweds couldn't have been happier. Of course, my only photos were of things superficial. I leave the important stuff to the paid photographer.
I, for one, embraced the chill, as it gave me a chance to indulge in some flannel and tweed. Stripes on stripes may not be for everyone, but it can be done. In this case the white club collar (Brooks Brothers, $5.49), white square, and solid navy wool tie ($1.00, Zareh of Boston) keep it all in check. Dressy, without being too stiff.

Grey socks and shiny black vintage 1960s Italian made shoes ($7.99) finish the job. Pay no attention to the cheesy hotel carpet.
A Chesterfield coat (Andover Shop, $9.99) and a black fedora ($9.99, not shown, see here) ward off the chill.
But that's just me, let's talk for a minute about a friend of mine:
Our man Mr. H. is a skinny fellow. He owns this suit, in soft grey flannel. Three pieces, hacking pockets, ticket pocket, flap breast pocket, and the most perfect 3/2 roll I've ever seen. Jealousy abounds here, since I'm the one who found this sartorial masterpiece a few years back at Keezer's for a scant $75. But alas, I'm not skinny, and Mr.H. is, so I put him wise to it. Score one for the good guys, I guess.

Made by the remarkable Rizzo tailor shop of Harvard Square in 1979. A real knockout punch.

When a guy shares a hotel room with other guys in "the band" ( wife and kids at home for the weekend), this is the sort of thing happens. Good times.

In case you're wondering, that's what an R&B rhythm section looks like. A 1964 Slingerland drum kit and an Ampeg Portaflex tube amp. Guaranteed to keep the folks dancing. Thankfully, I'm pretty sure our playing lived up to the equipment we use...at least I hope so.

A truly beautiful wedding cake, decorated with understated taste in simple fresh flowers was home made by the groom's sister-in-law, also a good friend. Three separate layers, but I had a piece from the bottom, chocolate with a perfectly balanced whiff of hot chili peppers. Another knockout punch.

Topped by a vintage  figurine which originally adorned the groom's grandparent's cake in 1950. Both still living and both in attendance. It must be something to see your wedding figurine on your grandson's wedding cake. Yet again, knockout punch.

If every wedding were this much fun, I'd hope for one every other weekend. Congratulations and best wishes for a bright future, to the new Mr. and Mrs. G******.

16 November 2011

Read The Right Label ; Read The Label Right

Brand names and labels are such a tricky beast, especialy when it comes to second hand shopping. Some are a guarantee of quality, others a guarantee of brand marketing. Most fall somewhere between the two. A label can be a household name and represent nothing but crap, or a label can be something you've never heard of and represent real quality.Sometimes a label can be a real surprise, if you learn to look at it after you look over the garment and judge it on its own merit. For example:

Here's a really nice tweed jacket. It has soft shoulders, high cut notch lapels and a two button darted front with just the right amount of waist supression. A good combination of English and traditional American detailing makes this piece both comfortable and sharp. And check that check: pattern matching from body to sleeve is pretty tight.
A perfect shade of gray tinted tan, with a large but faint windowpane plaid in brown and rust. ..
...with real braided leather buttons...
...and rendered in Scottish woven camel hair cloth, soft and luxurious to the touch.
Read the Right Label: Maybe you're not from the Boston area, or if you are maybe you're to young to remember, or don't remember, Kaps mens clothing stores. They were the real thing, since 1885. In the old days, when I worked at Simon's, Kaps stores, and the Kapelson family who owned them, were referred to with the due respect and mild jealousy befitting a worthy rival. Good stuff, always priced fairly but at it's worth, which was never cheap. Kaps was sort of a "poor man's Andover Shop", if such a phrase could possibly make even a shred of sense.

So far, nothing should be surprising about this jacket. Its well made, it comes from a sadly long gone local Massachusetts mens shop, and it's styled just how I like it. But there is a surpirse;
Read the Label Right: Chaps is like some kind of fourth rate label from Ralph Lauren for the malls and off price stores, right? Crappy junk meant only to create revenue through brand name licensing, right? I thought Kohl's owend it, right?

Maybe so, but not always, not like this. In the pre-over-seas-labor days, much of Ralph's stuff was high quality union made goods from the USA, and the Chaps brand was no exception.  In the days before brand names were just a commodity to license and sell, Chaps was turning out the goods. I may not specifically remember Chaps as a brand in such a light, but I do remember Kaps as a store in such a light, and I know they never sold junk. Buying this jacket used in not so much wearing yet aniother piece of Ralph's clothes as it is hiniring the Kapelsons.

Reading this blog, you may think that I just trip over $1000 suits for a buck every time I walk out the door, but believe me, it takes a lot of patience and study to pull this off.

p.s. the above jacket, along with many other new items, is up in the Shop. A shameless plug, perhaps, but a plug nonetheless.

14 November 2011

Country Is Where You Find It, Part II

Mrs. G and I had the all too rare chance to hit the honey spots together today. She generally couldn't care less about the unfathomable minutia of menswear, but she has a dead eye for the good stuff in spite of this. She saved me the trouble of rifling through the outerwear today by scavenging this prime piece:
Forgive the dreadful and misleading yellow incandescent lighting of these photos. I've learned to take my photos early in the day in natural light, but I couldn't wait until tomorrow to prattle on about this one. A vintage 1960s mid-thigh length raglan sleeved balmacaan coat in a gorgeous, and very British, tweed.

Olive green/brown/white large district check with rust/navy overcheck. Beautifully woven and soft as anything...

Incredibly precise pattern matching. You can hardly even see the pockets...

...or the sleeve tabs.

An old, and highly sought after, piece from the now sadly bygone Invertere. 20% cotton in the fabric, must explain the super softness.
For the sadly bygone Rogers Peet Company. Rogers Peet had stunning clothes of a higher level of quality than many of the more commonly pined for traditional American stores, not unlike the holy church of Andover Shop. I'm always surprised they aren't mentioned more often in the nerdly world of online menswear fetishism.


12 November 2011

Country is Where You Find It

I love dressing for the Fall, and I for one am glad to have a break in our unseasonably warm weather so I can enjoy the textures, fabrics and colors of the season without sweating. Perhaps my favortie thing about Fall dress is the influence of "country", as in British countryside, not Buck Owens (though I dig that too). And while it's true I live in "town" and usually walk on pavement, I indulge heavily in country treatments. True, the particularly nit-picky and pretentious among you will decry the impropriety of this. But in a time when grown men dress like toddlers, I hardly think it wise to make such minute criticisms.
This tan corduroy vest ($3.99, no brand, likely orpahned from a 3 piece suit) has been waiting in the wings since its acquisition in mid Summer. Bill wore it to TSFMIV. I wore it today. It plays well with a wool challis tie, rough blue oxford, and favorite tweed jacket (with throat latch for good measure).

I'll be on the lookout for more vests. I love to wear them, especially in rich textured fabrics like this. Lately, I find myself more and more attracted to forward pleated pants, and I find this to be especially true wiht a vest. The extra fold just ties it all togethr in my opinion, and adds another light nod (along with the printed wool challis) to the inherent British-ness of what's going on here.

My old favorite Florsheim wing tip brogues ($19.99) have been supplanted lately by current favorite tassel loafers, but they were a snap today. Perforated shoes have their origins in the country, while tassel loafers derive from fishing, so the choice was made for me. Cuffed hems, another country convention, are de riguer.

All of this clothing comes down to us from the tradition  of carrying a rifle in England to shoot at birds. I will almost certainly never shoot a rifle, at birds or anything else, and certainly not in England. I will likely never spend the weekend in any place known as a "manor". I prefer coffee to tea, even in the afternoon, like a savage. It's no matter. Besides being tied to these activities, these sartorial details are also tied to the weather and time of year, which is now. If it's sunny but brisk and the leaves are golden and falling, embrace the details of Fall.

Country is where you find it.

11 November 2011

Reader Questions : On Ageing Gracefully

I may be blowing wind here, but I like to think that my little corner of the internet fills a gap. I began this blog years ago at the suggestion of some good friends who were pleased with the blossoming menswear style blog boom, but disappointed that nothing at the time addressed stylish men of meager means.  In time, I've come to realize through emails and meeting people that I also tend to appeal to younger men in need of basic and unpretentious help (yikes, that was probably pretentious) as well as older men looking to keep things fresh without dressing like kids.

Reader Mark writes:

You said in your post "I'm not 22 years old and rail thin". That brings up a question:

What are good looks for heavier guys in their late 40s-early 50s? I don't want to appear to "try" to be dressing too young, yet I'm not really antique in age either!

A good question, to be sure. Hope I'm up to the task. What follows may not be so much direct advice on "looks" as it is on knowing your history, knowing whats going on, knowing what suits you, keeping it classic and simple, and combining all that...I hope.

As our example of how to look good, age appropriate, and young at heart all at once, we'll use the extreme example of style icon Fred Astaire.  Plenty has been written about this man's level of style in his prime in the '30s, '40s and '50s, but very little mentions how well he carried himself into old age. Finding good pictures of Astaire in his youth is easy, but finding photos of the man in later life was surprisingly difficult. I suppose that speaks to the good old American youth obsession (the opposition to which this blog was founded, see profile). 

In the photo above, a 75 year old Astaire gives his relatively staid jacket and tie ensemble just the right pinch of insouciance in his choice of aviator sunglasses, a favorite of youth today. The lesson here is opt for items which will always be classic and also "cool", in this case the glasses. Military men wear them, bikers wear them, rock stars wear them, hipsters wear them, even a confident 75 year old wears them. In each case they are "cool". In the old guys case, they are a sign that he is cool, and has been for some time. And yet, they don't diminish the classic-ness of his overall look, and they are anything but inappropriate.

This photo, like the one above, is a still from 1974s The Towering Inferno. Sure, it's dated. The tie is huge, the lapels are too. But that's the point. Being older doesn't necessarily mean you have to avoid trends like the plague, you just have to play them carefully. Astaire's tux is very 1974, yet because it is also relatively classic, he manages to be of the moment without looking like he's dressing like a kid. Despite the wideness of the elements, there are no ruffles on the shirt front, not frilly cuffs, no extra velvet, and no silly colors. Similarly today an older man may opt to lean towards the currently trendy leaner cuts while keeping his  fabrics and patterns classic.
In this bad photo from the bad 1981 movie Ghost Story, an 82 year old Astaire wears his coat collar flipped youthfully up with a schoolboy scarf knotted in a particularly youthful way. Growing older doesn't mean you need to turn into a stiff, or even a dork. It just means that all the things you learned and saw, all the goofy stuff and good stuff you wore, all your sartorial mistakes and triumphs should begin to cook down to a refined essence that is uniquely yours and exists outside the realm of age and time. Am I getting too philosophical here? Certainly.  

The point I guess is to stick with classic pieces in classic cuts and always insist on quality. At the same time, keep an eye on trends and choose selectively those aspects which will keep you looking fresh without looking like a mid-life crisis. And never wear anything that doesn't fit well. Young skinny 22 year olds can wear all the short pants and too tight jackets they want. They'll still look foolish, but we'll collectively chalk that up to youth and gullibility and hope they grow out of it. Older (and heavier) men do not enjoy such leniency.
Of course, it helps to have been this cool in your youth:
In writing this little blip, I realize that in this one short question we have a loaded sartorial topic on our hands, one that deserves frequent revisiting. I've only just poked at it with a stick. So lets have this be a discussion. I'd like to see this topic grow alongside a discussion of learning the basics for younger men. As much as I enjoy handing down the law from high on my soap box, I enjoy learning from others as well.

Thank you Mark for opening this can of worms. I hope we catch some big fish.