30 June 2012

Give 'Em Enough Rope

The rope soled espadrilles I ordered have arrived, and I have to admit, I love 'em. They are certainly a new Summer favorite:
I'd like to go on a rant telling Toms to go to hell, but I suppose I should thank them for even putting the idea in my mind that a proper espadrille may in fact be a necessity for the well dressed man in Summer.

The real thing, made in Spain, in the village of La Rioja according to the website.

They came in an envelope, not even one week after I ordered them. No right or left, just two identical shoes. After only two wears, though, my feet are already making impressions in the jute soles. So comfortable. First wearing was for an afternoon at the playground, second was with shorts and an un-ironed oxfrod sans shower to a yard sale this morning. I know I rail against slovenly dress and things like flip flops and shorts all the time, so spare me the argument. I am not, despite what you may think, anti-comfort. I am opposed to grown men being dressed in a selfishly sloppy way at all times for all ocassions. I will further admit that some ocassions call for comfortable, languid Summer dress, and for those times, espadrilles like these are just the trick, and have been for some time.
If you don't believe me, take a look at this image heisted from Heavy Tweed Jacket. It's from High Holy Brooks Brothers, in the High Holy Year of Our Preppy Lord 1982. Not only does it feature rope sole espadrilles, but also poly/cotton shorts and a damn hoodie. I rest my case.

Lest you think I've given up the ghost and gone full blast casual, know that later in the same day I wore a vintage Brooks Brothers white oxfrod with unlined collar, Brooks Brother blue oxford pants, a yellow cotton striped knit tie, vintage 1980s from Lands' End Charter Club, and the infamous gossamer jacket that has been getting perhaps too much time in the rotation. Damn thing is comfortable, what can I say? Different clothes for different circumstances.

Don't romanticize the past, and don't tie yourself up in imaginary rules. The old guys we all revere knew how to look good in a suit and in shorts. The real trick lies not so much in knowing all the little details as it does in knowing when to employ them.

p.s. give 'em enough rope:

28 June 2012

Giveaway! Carolina Cotton Bow Ties

I'm pleased to announce a little giveaway contest! The prize is this handmade in the USA cotton bow tie in blue gingham check, perfect for Summer,courtesy of Carolina Cotton Bow Ties:
There's a lot of folks getting into the bow tie business these days, but thats not a complaint. I applaude the ingenuity, and I'm glad to see that of all things bow ties are profitable enough for more and more people to get into it. Carolina Cotton Bow Ties is a mother and son outfit. Ethan and his mom CJ buy all the fabrics and produce all the ties by hand themselves. Not a bad deal at $35 retail.

So here's how to enter: tell me as briefly and as eloquently as possible why you think it's better to give $35 to a guy and his mom working together from home than even an old American company like Brooks Brothers or J.Press. Leave your entries in the comments to this post. The most concise and least political entry will win. Contest is open until Sunday morning. Good luck! I look forward to hearing from you.

update 1 July: thank you all for your submissions. A winner will be announced tonight.

and the winner is:

This was not an easy decision, believe me. That's why the verdict is coming in a full day late. However, after careful deliberation I've decided to award the tie to Claude, who said:

Because we express our freedom via our choices, and in doing so we construct our worlds. It's better because we know that how we present ourselves, authentically, has nothing to do with brand names, and everything to do with our choices. Even in the most dire of human circumstances, we have choices, however limited. We all know that penury is no excuse, but we are also aware of the consequences of our actions. When we know where our dollars will be landing, in home businesses or charity thrift stores, we can make more informed decisions about value, and even afford a conscience.

He managed not only to offer as good a reason as any why to buy this bow tie, but also gave a concise statement about the very nucleus of my intentions in writing this blog these past few years. Well done, Claude. Wear your bow tie in good health.

26 June 2012

An Affordable Cocktail

Cocktails are fun, and with the resurgence of interest in classic cocktails these last few years, they're everywhere. They can be as expensive as they are delicious, requiring all manner of exotic cordials and arcane preparation techniques. But they don't have to be. The most classic of classics tend to contain only a liquor (or two) plus something else, maybe a piece of fruit, and a cocktail shaker. Such is the Sidecar:
When temperatures rise, too many people retreat from all manner of brown liquor in favor of gin and vodka. While I certainly enjoy my fair share of Tom Collins or simple gin and tonic of a hot day, I see no need to give up on the brown stuff entirely. You only have to know how to make it cold and rereshing. The Sidecar, a favorite of old Papa Hemmingway, proves that even brandy can be refreshing (or something).

Traditionally, a Sidecar is made with Cognac, but that can get expensive. Even cheaply made mass produced swill like Hennessy cost upward's of $30 these days, pricey for a mixing spirit. I've recently discovered Bouchard Napoleon V.S.O.P. French brandy, $12.99 retail in the Boston area. It's not Cognac, but it is, dare I say it, better than Hennessy or Courvoisier, even straight in a snifter. Imminently more delicate, not full of caramel color, and older, being a proper v.s.o.p. (very special old pale for the newbies). It's not easy to spot so if you should be lucky enough to see some buy more than one bottle.

The second ingredient is an orange liqueur, usually Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Again, two fairly pricey ingredients, but once again, I seem to have found the antidote. Torres Orange is a clear liqueuer from Spain made from Valencia oranges, same as Cointreau. In fact, it tastes very much like Contreau. At $19.99 a bottle, it's nearly half the price. Again, if you can find it, buy more than one. It works in Sidecars, Margaritas, Mimosas. or any other drink that calls for triple sec. It's even pretty good on its own as a tall drink with club soda and lime.

The third ingredient is lemon juice. Lemons are 2/$1.00 at the grocery store.

Proprtions vary from recipe to recipe, and personal taste has more than a little to do with it. Here's how I like them:

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine:
3 parts brandy
1 part orange liqueuer
juice of 1/2 lemon

shake well, strain into a Champagne saucer

Some recipes call for a sugared rim, but I find the drink sweet enough. Besides, sugared rims make my lips all sticky (gross). A martini glass will do for serving, but I prefer a Champagne saucer. Its a little more old timey, plus it looks cool (see photo). Whatever glass you choose, the drink should be small. For one thing, it's best when its cold, and big drinks end to get warm. For another thing, how the hell much brandy do you really need to drink before dinner, you savage? The result should be a drink that is rich and sweet, with enough tartness to provide a fresh balance, yummy and appetizing while you wait for the steak to be done on the grill.

And you thought brandy was only good for warming you up on a cold night. P'shaw.

23 June 2012

Subdued Summer

Summer is certainly the best time for a man to play with color in his wardrobe. Pastel hues, brightly colored madras, and all manner of jaunty prints and patterns come into there own when the sun is full and the temperatures high. But what about the man who is simply not inclined to all that foppish tomfoolery? For that matter, even the most dandy among us can't wear pink, canary yellow, kelly green and Nantucket red all the time. Fortunately, the tried and true staid alternative is also one of the most stylish:
Navy and white will always do the trick. Seen here are the gossamer jacket I mentioned before, navy and white striped shirt with white club collar (Brooks Brothers, $5.49), navy silk tie with white pin dots (Bert Pulitzer, 1980s vintage, $1.99) and a pocket square made from a cut out piece of an old shirt. Only tow colors at play here, but enough variety of texture, pattern, and scale to keep the eye interested.
Below, some new favorite khaki trousers in 55%silk/45% cotton with double forward pleats, a style that is rapidly replacing flat front as my personal favorite (Polo, $4.99), held up with English made Trafalgar braces ($2.99). I sense a return of early 1990s nostalgia coming on in fashion. Much of it will be awful, as so many "fashion" things are. But I think the good points will include pleated, fuller cut pants, braces, and double breasted jackets. So much better for the man who may be carrying an extra pound or two lately. All that tight and skinny was doing nothing for me. Time for clothes to fit again. The turquoise, dark blue shirts, large shoulder pads, and navy-suit-with-yellow-tie thing will hopefully miss the return bus. We'll see.

Dressing for Summer is fun, but it doesn't always have to be extreme. Navy and white with khaki and brown leather, rendered in soft cuts and light fabrics, does the trick nicely.

p.s. on the feet: brown tassel loafers and pale pink socks. C'mon, I had to work some pink into this somehow, right?

22 June 2012

The Jams (poor Jack)

I've always felt sympathy for Jack Bruce. Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker be damned, he was always the best part of Cream.

I mean, after all, besides the excessive cool points he gets for playing a Gibson EB3  bass in the first place, and with his fingers at that, he sang all the damn songs(at least all the best ones).

p.s. even better

21 June 2012

Breaking The Law

It's been a while since we had a post about flagrant disregard for self imposed sartorial law. Last time, I boldly suggested that maybe it was o.k. to wear a button down collar with a double breasted blazer. This time, things are far worse. Brace yourselves.

When you find yourself in a place like this, at 11:00 am, on a Thursday, and it's 100 degrees with 200% humidity...

...it's possible, just possible, that it is acceptable to wear shoes like this. Sit down, take deep breaths, it's o.k., I can explain.

I have no specific problem with Toms. It may annoy me that they are such a ubiquitous mark of abject pseudo-hipsterism, and while I think that the company philosophy is pretty good, I can do without the drum beating, flag waving self righteousness they've managed to build into every purchase.  However, they do look cute on girls. Mrs. G has numerous pairs, and sometimes she buys them for me, unannounced. I wear them around the house, and occasionally, albeit begrudgingly, in public. I cut the tags off, not to fool people into thinking they're not Toms (I'm not fooling anyone) but more to mark myself as the kind of jerk who thinks he's too good for what everyone else is doing (snark).

It helps to remember that these are just a version of espadrilles, a soft canvas shoe from Spain that is in fact a stylish Summer classic. Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, and Gary Cooper are just a few of the monoliths known to have worn them with great aplomb. True, the real version comes from Spain and is characterized by a sole made of jute rope. In preparing to write this post, I was planning to wish you all good luck finding them, then I found these:

Cotton canvas uppers with a jute sole, apparently hand sewn in La Rioja, Spain. $25.95 (plus $9.95 shipping to the US) from espadrillestore.com. Not only the real thing, but half the price of Toms. I just ordered a pair. I'll be sure to let you know how they turn out.

And so long as we're on the topic of hot Summer days and espadrilles and whether it's acceptable for a grown man to wear shorts, let me proffer this:
A certain painter from Spain via Paris taught us all that not only are shorts and espadrilles acceptable for men, under the right circumstances, they can be downright bad-ass. I dare you to find anything in this photo that doesn't make everything you have look totally lame. I can't compete with that, but I can try to be cool in shorts and espadrilles sometimes.

Dammit, it's so hot here right now! (melt)

19 June 2012

On Childishness, and Judgement

Just the other day I was at the playground with my little girl when it occurred to me that I was the only person dressed like an adult. I was wearing plaid shorts and a white tennis shirt with L.L.Bean bluchers moccasins. Everyone else was dressed the same, toddlers and adults alike: baggy cargo shorts and goofy printed t-shirts, sandals and ball caps, etc. I thought to myself  "I'm, the only person here not dressed like a five year old."

Two days later I found myself out and about in navy chinos with embroidered whales in kelly green (Brooks Brothers, $5.99)...the kind of thing my mother might have dressed me in for weddings and the like when I was five years old.

Judge not, lest ye be judged....

15 June 2012

Reader Finds

Our first installment of Reader Finds features something for the ladies:
Meg of Pigtown Design found a couple of Hermes scarves for $2.00  each at a church thrift shop in Baltimore. Full story here.

And for the gentlemen:
Rafiel found this vintage "peek-a-boo" tie in a thrift shop in New York City, noteworthy not only for the kitsch pin-up lining, but for the fact that it's actually a nice tie besides that.

If you've got a great thrift shop find you'd like to share, email me at anaffordablewardrobe@yahoo.com with pictures and brief details, including your first name and city. Use the phrase "reader finds" in the subject line. 

13 June 2012

Wet Feet and How Not To Have Them, part II

While it's true that I may have an unreasonable disdain for rubber overshoes of any kind, in wet weather some things are absolutely indispensable. Chief among them is a good quality umbrella (or two).
My two tried and trusted options are pictured above, one long cane style umbrella in black, an absolute essential, and one short duck-head tote umbrella in burgundy, a nice option for more casual situations.

To begin with, if any man is going to have only one umbrella, it should be a long black one with a cane style handle, preferably with a wooden handle and shaft. There is simply no better choice when wearing a suit and long raincoat, or even formal wear, but it will do the job just as well with any attire. This is one thing worth investing in new if no other option is available to you, as a good one will likely be the only one you'll ever need. Besides, if you fork over significant scratch for it, you'll be that much less likely to leave it in the back of a taxi. I've had mine for many years, and the previous owner used it for many years.  Whatever you do, though, please don't walk with it like it is a cane, unless you want someone to take it from you and beat you with it. Mine was of course procured second hand, but good sources for new ones are the usual men's shops (Brooks, J.Press, etc.) or places like British makers like Swain Adeney Brigg if you're really feeling flush.

A smaller umbrella that will fit easily into a bag just in case it's needed is also a handy thing to have. Mine is one of the old duck head kind, with a wooden handle and metal shaft. I used to see these everywhere when I was a kid, in every color. They were something of a New England staple. They're perfect with casual clothes, and especially with "preppy" stuff like navy blazers and khakis, though they can be admittedly a tad precious if you don't happen to live in Boston.  Whatever kind you buy, be sure it's a good one, and not a cheap piece of junk form the drug store. A good one will work better, and again, if you actually pay for it you might not lose it.

As for footwear, in my previous post on the subject I suggested low cut Bean boots. But in a light rain, there are other options, besides those ghastly rubbers things:

Shell cordovan is the most desirable of shoe leathers for a host of reasons, one of which is that its better than other leathers at resisting water and keeping feet dry. I've mentioned this before, too. This pair of bluchers was recently acquired at a thrift shop for $5.49.
Big old double soled New England gunboats, perfect with that silly duck umbrella...

No brand name left on them, but certainly cordovan with a Goodyear heel. I wouldn't recommend wearing shoes like this for extended periods in a soaking downpour, but if you're only walking to the subway station or in and out of a car on a moderately rainy day, they do the trick well. I wear these or my other pair on the ten minute walk from my house to my job, and I've never had any problems. On arrival, simply wipe clean with a paper towel.

p.s. new items just arrived in the Shop, see here. In other shop news, I've recently cleaned up the "new" button so that clicking on it sends you items that are actually, you know, new. I've also added a link direct to the Brooks Brothers offerings in the side bar here, along with Polo, for customers interested in those two brands particularly. I do find a lot of that stuff.

p.p.s I've added a new page at the top, "Reader Finds". If you've found a great piece at a thrift shop, feel free to share it here. Email me with photos and info, use "Reader Finds" in the subject line.

p.p.p.s. in spell checking this post, I spelled "duckhead" as one owrd, and the spell check suggested "dickhead" as a replacement. Wow. Pardon my French, please.

09 June 2012


I have a mild addiction to blazers with brass buttons. My current collection numbers five, the most recent of which, and most recent favorite, is this number:
True to my own style, a perfect hybrid of "preppy" and British details...or rather, a more accurate truly "preppy" garment.Two button undarted front, three button cuffs, center vent, flap pockets, no shoulder padding.
By good old high holy Southwick of Massachusetts...

...in a very loosely woven hopsack, loose and unstructured...

...so loose as to be absolutely gossamer when held up to the light...

...but not so loose as to not look like tailored clothes on a warm day. The perfect Summer jacket? No doubt in my mind. $5.99 well spent.

05 June 2012

Custom Suit Blitz Finale...Finally

Some of you may remember that back in January I travelled to New York in a mad 18 hour blitz to be measured for a suit from Imparali Custom Tailors. It's even possible that some of you have been awaiting a report on the results of that suit. After an embaraasingly long peroid of feet dragging on my part, here it is:
The short answer is this: I entered into this endeavor hoping for the perfect charcoal grey suit, and that's exactly what I got. It's a conservative, well-cut suit made of good fabric that compliments my build and contains all of the little details I asked for executed exactly. It is a garment that I should be able to wear for many years to come, which is exactly what you'd want from a custom suit. Bravo Imparali!

Visitors to the Top Shelf Flea saw it on its maiden voyage, Today was it's second outing, and I have to say I only like it better than I did the first time. It needs a few very minor tweaks, but overall it's spot on.

When worn in full with the vest, it's likely that I will rarely button the jacket. When closed, the jacket fits like a dream. The shoulders are natural and barely padded (just like I asked for) the front is un-darted, yet still has some shape in the waist (just like I asked for). It has a soft 3/2 roll, and the center button is placed a bit high, which is how I like to wear it. The sleeve length could be touched up a hair, but I have a good guy in town for that. The lapels are whiff narrow, but that's really only nitpicking. I mentioned to Matt that I will probably wear this with brown shoes as often, if not more often, than with black, so boinus points for the use of smoke grey buttons. Clearly a great deal of attention has been paid to detail here.

Vests can be hard for me as I often find them to be cut too short or too tight to meet the trousers cleanly. Not so here. The vest fits closely without being constricting. It has a five button front closing just high enough and long enough to meet the trousers without showing any waistband.
The trousers sit on my natural waist (just like I asked for). They're cut in a very flattering style for me, relatively full but with a nice taper and little break. This cut accomodates both my large thighs and relatively short inseam. This is not something I asked for specifically, but a wise choice on the part of Matt and his team. Brace buttons are placed perfectly.

So let's talk minute details. Besides a better fit and personal choice of fabrics, one of the benefits of custom clothing is the freedom to choose one's own options. This can be a blessing and a curse, as the rookie is likely to drench the garment in so many details and tweaks as to mark the garment as the property of a rube. I myself was guilty of this in my both my Freshman and Sophomore outings into the world of custom clothes. To my own credit, I believe I manged to tone it down here while retaining just enough flourish to make the suit feel special. I went for a slightly unconventional combination of East Coast Tarditional and English details that really speaks to my own personal style.

I was fairly insistent on a natural shoulder. What they delivered was just that, in a modern way. Sloping and soft with just a touch of padding. Note how well the collar of the coat hugs my shirt collar, an essential detail. Lapel gorge is good, right in line with the shirt collar, and the slight angle of the breast pocket ain't bad neither.
A good looking 3/2 roll...

Matt did raise and eyebrow when I insisted that the jacket have no darts. But he did it. Note how the center button sits well above the line of the pockets. Not for everyone, but perfect for me.

Nicely made four button surgeon cuffs...

Buckle side tabs, sans belt loops...

Elasitc strips in the waistband to keep the shirt tucked in...

Forward pleats, a tab closure and a brass zipper finish the job. The waist could come in a pinch, but I suppose that's intentional. There is also plenty cloth to let out. I'm not sure I appreciate the assumption here, but I feel certain I'll be thankful for the extra cloth years on.

The whole rig looked pretty killing with an old Brooks Brothers blue stripe shirt with contrast club collar and a Macclesfield tie I picked up for $1.99  months ago and haven't been able to wear yet.

This suit was ready for pick-up five weeks after my initial fitting. Matt was fairly insistent I pick it up in person, as he wanted to have his own staff perform the alterations. After nearly teo months, I informed him that a trip to New York wasn't a possibility any time soon, and he gladly mailed it to me. This suit costs just shy of $1000. As a function of the level of service and attention I received, the quality and variety of fabrics available, turn around time and overall quality of the garment and fulfillment to the letter of my requests, I'd say that's pretty damn good. Imparali Csutom Tailors is the perfect starting point for any guy looking to try custom, leagues better than online, measure yourself sites. If you're near New York, or visit there at least twice a year, give these guys a try.

In closing, let me say this. You all know that I am both a cheapskate and a second-hand master. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's rare that I am the first owner of anything I have, let alone that I have something actually made for me (with my name in it even!) Thank you Matt and Imparali Custom Tailors, for letting me have something new for once.

03 June 2012

Santa in the Off Season

Who knew he was a real Knickerbocker from Olde Manhattan Towne? I was led to believe he lived at the North Pole. From the December 22, 1923 issue of Judge magazine, recently re-discovered in my basement.

There is no explaining how funny my kids found this to be. Really, Santa without a beard, dressed like he's going to have drinks at the club with Sir Topham Hatt.

02 June 2012

Wet Feet, and How Not to Have Them

It should be clear to you by now that I have a strong tendency to like all things old, outmoded and archaic, most especially in matters of dress and general personal carriage. This may lead you to believe that I would be the sort of man to wear overshoes, or "rubbers", when Ole' Ma Nature throws us a distinctly wet welcome to June. You'd be wrong.
Over the years, I've had a few pair like the ones you see above, and I really tried to use them. I've also owned sock garters in the past, and tried to like those, too. In the end, I find both things to be just plain silly in the modern world, the exclusive province of guys who do old stuff just to do old stuff.
And don't even get me started on Swims, their overpriced and somehow fashionable off-shoots.The only thing sillier than rubber overshoes is overpriced pseudo-fashionable "cool" rubber overshoes.

So what, then, is a fellow to do? The answers vary. For many men, it's easy to simply take refuge in the fact that pyjamas now suffice as clothing practically everywhere these days and cover up in some high tech waterproof camping stuff. Or you could just stay inside.

Fortunately for me, I live in New England, near Boston, in the epicenter of that uniquely American style of dressing up with extreme elements of casual leisure thrown in, of combining proper dress with sensible dress in just the right way. Fortunately for the rest of you, this way of dressing not only happens to be enjoying a moment of fashion right now but is also far more generally acceptable in more places than ever.

To begin with, these are the shoes that will keep your feet dry. Bean Boots, Original Maine Hunting Shoes, Duck Boots, whatever you want to call them. In Winter I wear a high cut pair with woolen socks. On the second day of June, I wear slip on moccasins with cotton socks and cheap khakis.At work, I keep an old pair of penny loafers to change into. There is one and only one source for these shoes : L.L.Bean. Don't bother with any others. But of course, you knew that already.
Up top, a Brooks Brothers shirt and blazer with an tie from the Andover Shop are all kept dry and clean under a Barbour jacket. Yes, in Boston you sometimes find yourself wearing a jacket over a jacket over a shirt and tie even in June.

The whole thing enters near abominable territory with the addition up top of a ball cap to keep the head dry. Truth be told, a ball cap atop jacket and tie is a time tested option in foul weather in Boston. Tread lightly here. Ball cap and suit is likely no good; ball cap and blazer with khakis is manageable. Red Sox hats and their derivatives are best. Country club and gold course caps work too, but only if you belong or play golf there.

The overall effect is a perfect fusion of correct and sensible, if a little laid back in its way. But that is the very heart of what this stuff is all about. Don't forget that above all the clothes should fit well, if even a little slouchy. Remember that when this "preppy fashion" moment passes and you should be able to wear this stuff for the rest of your life. Then your boy can wear this stuff for much of his life.

Oh, and your feet will stay dry.