21 March 2011

Perils of Thrifting

I guess things have been fairly rosy around here lately, and as such we haven't had an installment of the infrequent "perils" series in quite a while. This one's been in the can for over a year, I'm only just pulling the trigger now. It's the tale of The Worst Shirt I've Ever Owned.
The J.Crew "Vintage Oxford", size Medium. How can you go wrong with a white button down for a dollar? Well,  truth is you can go very far wrong. Allow me to explain.

I'm not about to embark on a rant against J. Crew in general, because I actually have no problem with a lot of their stuff. It's been well documented here that any given Spring at least half of the khakis I keep in rotation are from them, and I find them to be well made and pretty hard wearing. They can also be counted on as a source of good looking cotton socks in bright argyles and the like. I may not care for the dubious provenance, both in the Chinese factory and mall storefront, of most of their goods, but when you need basics like khakis and socks, and you're a cheapskate, you find that sometimes you have to pick your battles. So ends the disclaimer.

So what of the "Vintage Oxford"? Well, for one thing, calling a new thing vintage doesn't sit well with me, but that's just a matter of semantics. This shirt is a size Medium. I'm 5'10", I wear a 42 jacket and a 34 waist...you know, kind of the poster child for the average size Medium. But every aspect of this shirt is a bad fit on me. This shirt is a masterpiece of disproportion. The collar is too big, yet it's points are far too short. The placket is too narrow, the pocket too small. The sleeves are at least three inches too long, but you can't really roll them up, because they're cut too tight and the sleeve placket is only a couple of inches long. The damn thing is too short to stay tucked in, and the cloth is kind of spongy and weird feeling. Nothing good about it. Still, it was $1.00, and I figured I could at least use it as a "sweater shirt", when all I really needed was some open white collar showing, but even that didn't work. It constantly comes untucked, and the cuffs ride down and out of the sweater. Very bad, indeed. It's time for this beast to go, or at least get made into handkerchiefs.

A bad shirt like this touches on a couple of subjects, one of which is the problem of "alpha sizing", that is, S,M,L,XL. This system works fine for knitwear,tennis shirts, flat caps,and maybe even gloves. But a button front shirt is another matter. A man must have a neck and sleeve measurement in order for a shirt to look right. Some general cuts through the body will work well for a lot of guys, but an ill fitting neck or a sleeve too long or too short is irreconcilable. I'm not about to suggest, as some might, that any man who isn't a savage must have his shirts made, because for most men ready made shirts will work just fine. But stay away from alpha sized dress shirts, even for $1.00.

The other issue this addresses is the "problem" of  the very low prices one often encounters in thrift shops, the ultimate peril of thrifting in a way. No matter how cheap something is, Hell, even if its free, doesn't necessarily mean you need to take it. Junk is junk at any price, and the accumulation of a lot of it is the most common trap thrift shoppers fall into. Successful cheapskating requires a more discerning eye than usual, and it's a skill to be constantly developed. I've been working on it for years, but as you can see, we all slip sometimes. I paid $1.00 too much for this shirt. Can it be true that someone paid upwards of $50 for it once? Shocking. There's a long winded lesson  in values and relativity there too, I suppose, but we'll leave that for another time.

Avoid the J. Crew Vintage Oxford at all costs...unless you need a cloth to wax your car with, or something. Even then there are better options.

26 comments:

Jho78 said...

Maybe I should have "Junk is junk at any price" embroidered on my wallet. It would help me avoid future mistakes. Did I just create the first original piece of An Affordable Wardrobe merchandise?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Alpha comment. I made the mistake of purchasing dress shirts of my size and they are always different in the sleeve length, and the overall fit.

Handkerchief making is genius. I have never heard of that, let alone thought about doing something like this. Hell, for a dollar, I'd buy a shirt whose fit is CRAP, but whos material will look amazing as a hanky!

Thank you

Sean J. said...

I know what you mean about buying something because it's a "good deal" only to realize you should have exercised more restraint. It's a bad feeling.

I've had a much different experience with the J. Crew "Vintage Oxford" shirts. I own 4 of them—a couple of light-colored solids, a pink university stripe, and a tatersall. All in size large, all purchased secondhand.

I'm 6'2", wear a 42 L jacket and 36" waist. And these shirts fit me fine. The sleeves are the right length, the shoulder seams hit in the right place, and overall the fit is slim without being restrictive. It stays tucked reasonably well, and the placket and pocket are similar in size to those of other OCBDs that I own. Maybe mine were made in a different season with a different cut? Or yours has shrunk unevenly?

I couldn't agree more, though, with what you write about the need for a neck and sleeve size on shirts. It's crazy to think that three or four sizes are supposed to accommodate all shapes and sizes. Though a large fits me pretty well here, it's not perfect: the neck is a size too big, so wearing a tie is out.

So they're not the finest shirts I own nor the first I reach for, but they've been perfectly serviceable in my case.

Thanks for sharing.

Unclelooney said...

Well that shirt was designed to be worn untucked, sleeves down but unbuttoned and paired with some nice wide legged, slightly flared, faux distressed denim.
Put on some shoes that look like a pirogue and comb the hair into a fauxhawk. Don't forget the aviators and the tanning booth tan and dude you are ready to SCORE!

Anonymous said...

Maybe you got a bad one. They fit good on me.

Anonymous said...

I would also suggest avoiding the Brooks Brothers Black Fleece shirts. Any and all of them. Stupidest fit on Earth.

Anonymous said...

J Crew definitely has its strengths, and its weaknesses. Giuseppe has hit upon some of the weaknesses with this particular product.

I really don't understand what this commenter is talking about, though, with flared denim, pirogues, fauxhawks, and tans.

Giuseppe said...

Maybe I did get a bad one. Inconsistency is another peril of these kinds of products.

David said...

I have two J. Crew button down shirts, both bought new but on sale some 5 or so years ago. They fit fine but then again they're just regular shirts, not the secret vintage rustic version or anything like that.

Ultimately though, Unclelooney is 100% correct here. Most casual J. Crew shirts were meant to be worn untucked. Every model wearing a casual button down for J. Crew always has his shirt out. The only time you see them tucked in is when they're wearing a suit.

As for the $1 shirt, I've bought a couple of them to teach myself how to tailor shirts without ruining anything I actually wear.

Unclelooney said...

What I was saying is that the trend toward too small too short shirts has been creeping up on us for awhile, even before the neo preppie/urban lumberjack trend.
The look I was describing is actually fairly common round here. It's actually popular with
yuppy sorts though button down collarsare rare. I'm 49 and remember similar cut shirts in the 70s when I was a whoppin 150.
I guess what I'm saying Guisepe is that the Vintage oxford is supposed to fit that way.

Anonymous said...

I actually watch ebay like a hawk for the vintage oxfords as they fit me like a glove and are perfect for untucked summer weekends. I wear a medium as well, so if that hits the shop...

Julien said...

At least, mistakes in thrifting are not dangerous for your financial health.

I was talking to a friend who also likes clothes, and I realized the total sum of my mistakes in the past 2-3 years (notably the 1970's camel hair jacket with huge lapels and the misshapen Yves St-Laurent Cardigan) is about the price of one tie for him.

So I figure, I'm better off making an occasional misstep then he is buying the wrong tie color once. Or dropping coffee on it, for that matter.

Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

Simple diagnosis: The shirt was made for males who dress like boys, and not those who dress like men. Unclelooney is likely correct on this.

Pigtown-Design said...

maybe the bad fit was why the shirt was at the thrift in the first place. the person who paid $50 for it didn't like it either.

pmg said...

the idea that something has a "terrible fit" just because it doesnt' fit you is retarded. yes, retarded. you have a point that a shirt should have a neck/sleeve measurement ideally, but ideally we'd all have bespoke suits and get around town on a stegosaurus riding an aston martin. the sizing feature is a way for a clothing company to come out with approximate fits without dropping a shitload of cash on a casual shirt. ultimately, if a shirt doesn't fit you, you shouldn't buy it.

also, @unclelooney how much of pop culture do you get from circa 2005 MTV reruns?

Giuseppe said...

It's pretty easy to get well made neck/sleeve length shirts for a fraction of the price of J.Crew. Lands End sells them for $20 all the time.Equating something as commonly accessible as a properly sized mens shirt and a bespoke suit is, as you say, somewhat retarded.

And if I can't call something a terrible fit when it doesn't fit me, when can I?

p.s. did you skip the part where I said it was foolish to suggest that bespoke was the only option?

Giuseppe said...

Also: Are we to suppose that the "postmodern gentleman" is sarcastic and needlessly mean spirited? And uses word like "retarded" in mixed company?

Don't forget, I'm a low bred Boston kid full of vigorous Italian blood. I swear a lot, too. But if I don't know what it means to be a gentleman, I certainly know what it means not to be one.


Just sayin...

Anonymous said...

Dead on, G.

I have two of these J. Crew shirts that I purchased new on clearance. What a mistake.

To fit my 18 neck, I needed the XL, which meant I had to pay my tailor to shorten the sleeves. End of day: I paid as much as I would've for a BB OCBD that fit (on sale) as I did for the Crew. And not nearly--NEARLY--as nice a product. The Crew doesn't have nearly as nice a roll to the collar. LE, as you point out, is every bit the equal, for a fraction of the cost.

That said, I would bite for a buck, but only because one needs shirts for gardening, motorcycling, cleaning fish tanks, etc., and a Crew is better than a t-shirt, all things being equal. But they are a cruel hoax, in my experience, if your aspirations are higher and, yes, I have only myself to blame.

Larry Toe Albano said...

to be fair sometimes you just can't know about something until you get it home and take it for a test drive. sometimes I have to think "alright, it's one dollar for a shirt, if I have to buy two or three before finding th perfect one it's still a bargain." Also I've found that cheap prices really change the way you look at clothes. I have a local thrift shop that on two days a week has a large amount of their clothing at a dollar a piece, this is including two piece suits, leather jackets, dress shirts, anything. I'm thinking about going down there and buying jeans just to cut up and make jean patches because it's the cheapest option. Also always remember: just because it doesn't fit you doesn't mean it won't be spot on for one of your friends, pass on stuff you can't use.

Anonymous said...

I tried one of these on last week at the store (a medium) and like you, noticed the fit seemed all wrong. Wasnt an "inexpensive" shirt either as I recall.

Anonymous said...

J. Crew used to make the same style of shirt in better proportion. I own a couple of them. Then, all of the sudden, they changed the shirts (different fabric, too) and the fit was all wrong. I hate when companies do that. Shoe companies are terrible with this, too.

trm said...

Hi,
I might be a little late but do you still have this shirt? I would be willing to take this off of your hands...name your price!

Bernie said...

I read your old post about J. Crew's vintage wash shirt with interest because they actually fit me! But not in the large or medium that I usually wear. I found the shirt fit me nicely in size small. I wear a size 15.5 inch neck and 34 inch sleeve. I'm 6ft and 150 pounds. These shirts go great with my business suits. A tie fits nicely in the button down collar and although the shirt tails are short, I haven't had a problem with them staying tucked in. The pockets are a tad small, but hey, what are you going to do? I agree with you that the sizing of these shirts are way off and business shirts really should be sized by neck and sleeve, but the best thing I like about these shirts is that the collar and sleeves are not fused. I've been trying to find affordable unfused shirts forever and it's been impossible. All these Trad Blogs write about the comfort and magic of unfused shirts but no one makes them anymore. Sure, you can get unfused Mercer shirts and some other brands for 100+ dollars, but what kind of self respecting "Affordable Wardrobe" reader would do that? The last time I found affordable unfused shirts was when the clothing chain "Today's Man" was in business. You could get three shirts for $60. Maybe that's why they went out of business. I can get these J. Crew Shirts at their outlet stores on sale for under thirty bucks. I have to confess though that unlike you, I do not like to buy business shirts from a thrift store because they usually have a soiled ring around the collar that cannot be washed clean. That kind of icks me out. Thanks for writing about the shirt though. Please let your readers know if you run into any other brands of affordable unfused shirts!

Gary K. said...

Odd. I have a couple of the "vintage" J. Crew oxfords in Medium and they fit very well. I'm 6' 1.5", a trim 190 lbs., a 42R in jackets, 33-34 waist size.

I have no issues at all with this shirt, and indeed, I would say it is among the best-fitting from J. Crew that I own. Any chance yours would be a factory J. Crew shirt?

As for the "vintage" tag, yes, semantics, but I find the use of such terms actually a little helpful, kind of a signpost for what the look of the shirt is supposed to be, i.e., if I see a shirt called vintage I'm going to assume it's going to have a more or less classic or traditional sillouette, and so on.

Gary K. said...

Hmm. Any chance yours is a factory/outlet J. Crew shirt? My experience with the J. Crew vintage oxford could not be more unlike yours. I'm basically a J. Crew medium at 6' 1.5", 42R jacket, 33-34 waist size, fit 190 lbs. These shirts fit perfectly, and while I agree the collar point and the pocket are a little smallish compared to more established shirtmakers like Brooks Brothers, I also think this detail gives it a crisper, more contemporary look--while of course fitting a sort of overall vintage or traditional look.

As for the vintage tag, yes, it's semantics and sales and all that--but I also find such tags useful sometimes. They can tell me that something aims for a certain look or feel, in this case, something traditional or classic.

Gary K. said...

Odd. I have a couple of the "vintage" J. Crew oxfords in Medium and they fit very well. I'm 6' 1.5", a trim 190 lbs., a 42R in jackets, 33-34 waist size.

I have no issues at all with this shirt, and indeed, I would say it is among the best-fitting from J. Crew that I own. Any chance yours would be a factory J. Crew shirt?

As for the "vintage" tag, yes, semantics, but I find the use of such terms actually a little helpful, kind of a signpost for what the look of the shirt is supposed to be, i.e., if I see a shirt called vintage I'm going to assume it's going to have a more or less classic or traditional sillouette, and so on.