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.