I work at night, and as such often putter around the house in my pyjamas until late morning. I ought to have nicer pyjamas, I suppose. But I just can't bring myself to hang around the house in a night shirt without feeling like a jerk.
Even if it is a really nice one from Brooks Brothers. Before anyone makes a crack about the matching night cap and candlestick, Mrs. G already beat you to it. She had plenty other choice humorous remarks to make as well. The last thing sleepwear should do is make you appear silly in the eyes of your significant other.
Finding well made classic clothing from old guard American brands is difficult enough. Turning up a vintage handmade piece from "across the pond" is nearly impossible...nearly.
In posting new items for sale in the Shop this evening, I decided that this piece deserved its own post here. After it's sold, I don't want the memory of it to fade, it's that good. So consider this post, much like my posts on vintage formal wear (here, here and here) one for posterity.
What you see here is a real tweed jacket, the kind that makes every other tweed jacket you've seen or owned seem like child's play. A real piece of British country clothing, most likely actually worn by its original owner in the British countryside. My best educated guess dates this coat in the early 1960s, but it may as well be brand new for how well it's held up. Note the tailoring. Moderate shoulders with a nipped waist and soft three button front. Not our American 3/2 stance, but certainly tailored to the center button.
Super heavy bullet proof brown herringbone tweed, the kind of stuff you don't see anymore outside of Britain. Narrow lapels with rounded corners, popular in the early 1960s, are one of the clues to its age.
Shallow side vents are another.
Real horn buttons. The two button cuff is a bit unusual for English clothes, but spot on for this "casual" jacket.
By Gieves Limited of London. The final clue. Not only does this confirm the obvious fact of this garments quality, but it proves that it was made no later than 1974, the year Gieves Limited bought Hawkes and Co. of No. 1 Savile Row to form Gieves & Hawkes. If you're a 38 short, this ones for you.
I used to have a really nice tan suit in lightweight, loosely woven wool. You might remember it, it was a dear old favorite :
A classic piece from Brooks Brothers, flat front trousers, 3/2 undarted front, natural shoulders and all. It sat perfectly between dressy and casual on warm days from May until early Fall. Being tan, it had a laid back, easy going look to it. Being wool, rather than cotton or cotton blend poplin as so many tan suits are, it had more shape and formality. Recently, I sold it. It even served as the image for my Shop for a few months.
The decision to part with this garment was not an easy one.But for two and a half Summers it hung in my closet practically unworn. Truthfully, it no longer fit well, and likely never would. I just didn't want to admit it. Now, many will say that instead of buying clothes a size bigger I should lose the few extra pounds, you know, men younger than me who don't have kids or take as much joy in the act of eating as I do. While there may be merit to that suggestion, that's not the whole story. This suit was a 40 regular, a size that no longer fits in the shoulder. I now wear 42. A few extra pounds may be one thing, but weight can shift and build can change for some of us. Toad stated this eloquently in a recent post, and he's right. Nothing makes a guy look bigger than clothes that are too small. Slightly larger and well fitting sizes make a man look slimmer. Fit, as they say, is indeed everything. It must come first, before fabric and make.
All is not lost, though. Fortunately, in the rather large thrift shopping haul that made it back from Maine with us was my perfect, if not dare I say slightly better, replacement tan wool suit.
Natural shoulders, 3/2 undarted front, flat front trousers in a lightweight, loosely woven wool. This time in a 42 regular with a 36 waist trousers, sizes that allow me to breathe. After fit, breathing is also flattering on most men.
Seen here with my new favorite tie, a vintage 1960s paisley from Brooks Brothers, and an Italian pocket square with hand rolled edges. Both acquisitions of the mighty haul, it's likely that these two pieces will accompany the suit next week sometime when I take it for it's maiden spin once it returns from dry cleaning and minor alterations.
Hand sewn button holes, one up on the old Brooks Brothers suit.
There is some separation of the seam at the right armhole, but I won't let that stop me. It's nothing that a few bucks and a week at the tailor can't fix. Remember, when you're buying old clothes, you have to see them for what they will be, not what they are. Besides expecting things to require alteration, know that many blemishes can be repaired. A tear in the cloth is likely a deal breaker, but things like missing buttons, or a break at the seam like this, are no big deal.
Made in USA by H. Freeman & Son for Gorsart Clothes of New York. Apparently, Gorsart was once a lively little secret hidden on a second floor in a factory and warehouse district for 80 years before going under in 2001(see here). If there were still stores like that, there's a chance I'd shop retail more often...just a chance.
Oh yeah, I also nabbed these:
Fingers crossed I'll have an excuse to wear black tie at least once this year.
p.s. the rest of the great haul has been photographed and will be hitting the Shop in the next few days, something for everyone, so stay tuned.
p.p.s. Big and Tall men, I've also received a pretty big consignment of suits and jackets in larger sizes (48-50 long, trousers size 46) and shirts (17 1/2 x 35), largely Brooks Brothers. Interested parties may contact me for details, or look for them in the shop within the next 10 days or so.
p.p.p.s. Thrift Store Runway is offering five prizes of $500 each for their August contest cycle. There still time to enter. Details here.
There's a lot of downright silly New England WASP sycophancy around men's clothing blogs, and I generally try to avoid it here. I've said so often that though many of the things I like may have been largely enjoyed by a certain narrow slice of East Coast society, I never found membership in any such group to be an exclusive requirement to anything. For one thing, as a good friend who is in fact from an old WASP family once said, more people had the values than had the money anyway. For another, we all dressed like this around Boston when I was a kid. Even immigrant Catholic mothers bought whale embroidered pants for their boys to wear on Easter Sunday, because, you know, that's what the stores were selling. However,
when you're on the coast of Maine, in a town full of old early Victorian houses with a small harbor full of sail boats, and the village church is an austere white clapboard building like this...
and that church is, of course, Protestant, and old, you know you're in good thrift shop territory, if you can find a thrift shop.
When that thrift shop is in fact run by the church and housed in the old colonial next door, you've hit what unwashed bottom feeders like me call The Jackpot. A whiff, just a whiff, of that WASP sycophancy may be needed to make my point here.
Lots of people will offer the advice that when thrift shopping the best goods are to be found in affluent neighborhoods. While that's true, it only tells part of the tale. Besides finding an affluent neighborhood with a local charity, you need to find a neighborhood where the affluent people are buying the things that you want. For me, that means finding old Protestant neighborhoods like this one. I know that generations of men who have lived hear dressed in a typical East Coast way. I know that there will be lots of Brooks Brothers, J. Press, and things from small local shops in the same vein. Good old Yankee Thrift means not only that when the time comes to donate, it will go to the local Church, but also that the likely of finding rare older items will increase. I suppose the Rule Of Thrifting here is Always Shop at the old Church. Salvation Army, Goodwill, or Savers might have some good stuff the day you walk in...or not. The Church store run by kindly old ladies from the parish will have only good stuff. At least that's been my experience with these places.
This shop was bursting with it. After only half an hour, my arms were laden with more than I could carry to the counter. I say counter, but really it was an old desk set up in the foyer of this old house. One kindly old lady offered to let me look around the back room at the items not yet tagged for sale. Another half an hour, another weighty armload of stuff. As I dug deep into a plastic bin full of ties, another old lady offered me a brownie. Delicious.
As for the haul, I was giddy. Being as seasoned a thrift shopper as I am, I rarely get as big of a "thrill of the hunt" rush as this place gave me. I was giddy as I hauled an entire contractor bag of clothes over one shoulder to my car. And that's just what I took in men's clothing. The books were great, because the same people that donate these good clothes also tend to read well. The housewares were terrific. And the fact that I was handing my money to a volunteer from a local church and that the whole thing was one giant act of recycling on everybody's part made the situation a win for everyone involved. That's something that no retail shop can give you.
There are lots of good reasons to live on the Atlantic Coast in New England. Men get to wear silly pants and carry tote bags, and no one seems to care. Newness in anything is usually shunned, which is a boon to cheapskates like me who never really have anything new anyway. And then there's the seafood. I've spoken at length before of my love of the clam, be it raw, fried or in a thick chowder. But I have yet to expound on one of my our most famous and hardest to duplicate delicacies, the (high holy) Lobster Roll. Given that I am in Maine, high holy mecca of the blessed crusatcean itself, I figured the time had come.
Friends from other places ask for advice on where to acquire a truly hedonistic Lobster Roll. Often, they tell tales of having had been disappointed by the offerings they've had in very fine dining establishments in other cities. Why, they wonder, is a Lobster Roll on the New England coast such an ethereal delight, while what by many measures may technically be considered "better" falls flat elsewhere? True, our access to the finest and freshest lobsters on a near daily basis does of course contribute to this. But that's not the heart of the issue. The real key to a perfect Lobster Roll is simplicity. It's success lies in that particular combination of high decadence and cheapskate-to-the-bone Yankee thrift that make so much of New England culture captivating to those who weren't raised in it.
The meat should be fresh lobster claw and tail, cut up in big chunks. The dressing is a bit of mayonnaise, enough to hold it together, and nothing else. If you want to get fancy, a small amount of chopped celery is permissible, though by no means required. Anything else is not only unnecessary, but a minor sacrilege. The bread must be only a buttered and toasted cheap white hot dog bun. Anything else is not only unnecessary, but in fact a major sacrilege. No artisinal bread, no crusty rolls, no whole wheat anything, only a buttered toasted white hot dog bun. The combined facts of the mayo only dressing and the refusal of fancy bread are usually what make the non-New England overly gourmet version of this classic so lackluster. There is, after all, such a thing as trying too hard.
Accouterments include a pickle and potato chips, or sometimes French fries. Beer is the drink of choice, though ginger ale works well when alcohol is not allowed. China service should be only a cardboard tray and plastic fork, to pick up the precious bits that fall from the bun. The whole thing should be consumed under an umbrella at a picnic table in a place where the views looks thus:
It won't be cheap, but it shouldn't be. The best part about all this homespun Yankee simplicity is that when you shell out the better part of a twenty dollar bill for a proper Lobster Roll, you can rest assured that it is the precious lobster meat, and its skilled preparation that you pay for, not the white table cloth and pretentious atmosphere. A properly prepared and properly served real New England Lobster Roll is worth every penny.
We around the nerdy corners of the whacked out phenomenon that is menswear snobbery can get awfully tied up in outrageous minutiae. It can be easy to forget that simplicity, while always a good starting point, is often a refreshing reminder that all those rules, tricks, and tips you've been reading about (my own included) are to some degree so much hooey.
Few things bring it all back down to Earth like a blue oxford shirt and a crisp pair of khakis. True, I will always advise that quality should take precedence, but.....In the world of thrift shopping, few things are constant. The availability of khakis and blue oxfords is, for now, one of those constants. Good stuff does turn up, but for less than ten bucks each, there's no end of serviceable options out there. Ralphie and J. Crew do me just fine with this stuff.
Together, they provide the nucleus of comfortable casual for any man whose wardrobe is in any way classic. Here, with a navy surcingle belt and penny loafers, the effect is casual but smart. Swap the loafers for boat shoes, blucher mocs, or even canvas sneakers, and we're comfier still. Wear it all all un-ironed and we're downright slouchy. But for all that, you can be as laid back as the guy in the flip flops and children's t-shirt....albeit infinitely better appointed and taken ever more seriously by fellow grown-ups everywhere. The garden gnome agrees.
Add a classic blue blazer and repp striped bow tie and you're , ya know, like, all dressed up, or something. Foulards and knit ties, cotton or silk, work just as well.
It's as simple as that.
p.s. we're on vacation. I'll be up North with the wife and children all week, in a place that looks like this:
I'll do my best to write a post or two...or maybe I'll just drink beer on the deck of the cottage in the evening. We'll see.
I'm going to begin this post with a little disclaimer. Lately, I feel like there's been an awful lot of promotion going on around here, and my own feelings about it are mixed. Last year, as I'm sure you know, I started an online business selling my kind of second hand clothing and accessories. What began as something to do on the side has thankfully grown into more than that. One side effect of this is more promotion, shameless or otherwise, here on the blog. I try to keep it to a minimum, but simply put, stuff sells better when I tell people about it.
I've also been getting more and more offers of free goods from companies who want me to review them here. I know this seems like so much empty shilling, and maybe it is. However, I accept only a very thin selection of all the offers that come my way, and at that only ones I truly feel may be of interest to my readers. Forgive me if this seems distasteful, but I work hard at this, and I see no real problem in occasionally reaping the benefits. I assure you my reviews are always honest. Henceforth, any post dealing with review of free goods will be titled simply "Free Stuff".
photo: Hudson Sutler
Hudson Sutler is a company offering a good simple basic that anyone could use: classic duffel bags, available in a variety of colors, in two sizes. Each one is made in USA. When they offered me one to try, I opted for the 'Sconset weekend (larger) duffel. With my family and I heading to Maine for our annual vacation next week, the timing couldn't be better. And Maine is perhaps the only place besides Massachusetts where we call "Pink" "Nantucket Red" and no one bats an eye at a grown man making liberal use of the color. Good thing, because this bag is big, it's a lot of said color, however you might call it. Hudson Sutler suggests it for a 2-4 night trip, but at 20 inches wide and 12 inches in diameter at the round sides, I see no reason why my entire weeks kit won't fit in it.
photo: Hudson Sutler
It's rendered in extremely heavy 18 ounce canvas and finished with thick plastic zippers, sturdy handles and strap, and navy stitching. Inside, the lining is navy anchor print. Who ever heard of lining in a duffel bag? Not me. Aren't those things supposed to be for the gym? I ain't taking this to no gym. At $120 for the bigger (weekend) size and $95 for the smaller (commuter) size, prices are admittedly what I would call steep. But this bag is tough, and I think I'll have it for a while. I'll let you know how it fared when we get back in town. If it really is as good as they say, chances are there will be a blog post next August about a trip to Maine with this bag in it. We'll see.
It's been said by better writers on this topic than me that men who care about clothes eventually graduate from overt displays of pattern mixing to clean and simple classics. I suppose I must be reaching the final stages of narcissism, given my proclivity this Summer to opt almost invariably for combinations of navy and white, with tan or cream trousers. Clean, simple and classic, the combo has served me well. I must be getting old.
Kelly green braces provide only a quiet reminder that I do in fact deal heavily in flamboyance when the mood strikes me.
A white straw hat with navy and burgundy striped band is further proof that I have gotten old enough to no longer fear the consequences of behaving like a grown-up. Made it USA by Bailey of San Francisco, and picked up for $42.50 in the half price Summer sale at the Andover Shop, it was worth every penny. Simple, quality, classic dress, right?
Rear blade of the tie hanging just so slightly longer than the front blade (on purpose, of course)....proof positive that even I am not immune to an occasional bout of "Sprezza-tourism".
The concept of "Sprezzatura" has gotten so far out of hand that I can hardly bear to utter the word...and I'm an Italian who posts photos of himself on the internet for a men's clothing blog. I wish I could claim credit for the term "Sprezzatourist", but I can't. Along with the equally brilliant pun "Sprezzatourettes", credit belongs to M. Reginald-Jerome de Mans, for A Suitable Wardrobe. I'm not one to "re-blog", but M. de Mans' article is a must-read for any man serious enough about clothes to care, but firmly self aware enough to have a good laugh at his own expense.
Two good old friends will get a nice chuckle out of the title of this post (private joke, not telling). For the rest of you, I offer this version of the sea foam surprise:
A suit in glen check of a subtle scale may not be anything shocking, in black and white, looking like pale grey. If it's zesty, it will have an overcheck in blue or red. But a glen check suit in pale green with an overcheck in...dare I say it...sea foam??? Filthy, degenerate...brilliant. (caveat: the photos simply do not do the color of this thing justice)
Bearing what appear to be actual horn buttons...
In some unheard-of fabric composed of 79% wool/21% linen. Lightweight but sturdy, comfortable on a hot day, crinkles just enough (but not too much) to look like Summer...
Off-the-rack number from Paul Stuart, fits me like a glove...
Not bad with a Brooks Brothers USA made pinpoint button down shirt and an Italian made Polo bow tie.
I am in no way one to advocate the separation of suits, but I think this one wil work as well as two pices as it does as one. The pants will jam with a white tennis shirt and navy blazer...the jacket will work with tan, navy, charcoal, or cream slacks.
I often like to indulge in bright colors and pattern matching that is likely excessive (though my preference for that does seem to be wearing off in my old age). Still, nothing puts it all in perspective like an assemblage of neutrals.
Still, an assemblage of neutrals doesn't need to be boring by any means. This is the time to play with texture and material. Remember too that black and white don't have to be kept separate from brown and tan. I think quite the opposite is true, that the four of them together, while perhaps more difficult to pull off at first, is far more interesting.
Here. a newly acquired jacket in black and white glen check, sans colored overcheck, gets its first outing ($7.49). The coat is unidentified, but carries all the right details: 3/2 roll, a high notch, no darts, center vent, natural shoulders and half lining. The three button cuffs, as opposed to two button, lead me to believe that it might be from J. Press. True, it might be half of a suit, but I don't think so. In this particular case, I hardly think it matters. The cloth is what I'd call 10 month weight, but two weeks ago on a day that hovered at 70, it was a nice break from my navy and white Summer uniform.
A white pinpoint Brooks Brothers shirt with button down collar ($5.49) is an obvious choice. A black silk knit tie (Lands' End, gratis) adds texture while keeping it simple. Brown Ray Bans, rather than black, with green lenses may be unexpected, but the country origins of a pattern like glen check take to brown accessories well, despite it being actually black and white. The pin on the tie is proof that I can't leave well enough alone, even when I'm supposedly "keeping it simple".
Below, tan trousers in silk/cotton blend with forward pleats by Ralph ($5.99), and old favorite brown tassel loafers, with off white dress socks in one of the few situations I can think of where they are actually the right choice.
Just because you're keeping it simple, doesn't mean you can't also keep it interesting.
I like to rail on about the sorry state of decorum and comportment these days. And one of my favorite soap box speeches is the one about proper dress being an outward expression of one's respect for the situatuion at hand and the other people involved. And I stick by all that.
There are those that will say that dress is meaningless, it's what you do that counts. True. The trick is to do whatever that is so well that no one pays attention to your clothes. Buddy Rich can do more in a tux than most guys. John Henry Bonham can wear what the hell he wants. Can you?
p.s. don't forget...all items on sale 20% off in the Shop through Sunday. Used discount code "SUMMER2012".
Zach of Newton Street Vintage and I make a pretty good team when it comes to putting together a 10x10 pseudo shop under a tent in a parking lot.
Evidence of this fact can be found in the fact that the two of us can't work together without either one taking home some piece of the other guys stash. Sometimes we buy, sometimes we trade, but we never walk away from one another empty handed. This outing proved no different, as I found myself making room for what may be the best cold weather suit I've owned yet:
Trad/Ivy/Preppy authentic, well-curated vintage heritage Americana, or whatever the semantics police would have us call it now, is played in spades in this old charcoal pinstripe suit. Natural, nearly un-padded shoulders, no darts, 3/2 roll...all the details, all rendered in the kind of thick but soft sturdy cloth that barely exists anymore in the world of ready made clothing.
The extra high third buttonhole, right in line with the breast pocket, age this one solidly in the late 1950s/ early 1960s. The stripes are not-quite-white. That's a huge bonus for me. I rarely wear black shoes, and will likely never wear this business suit in a business setting, so those tan stripes ought to work nicely with my near fetishistic collection of brown shoes, most especially cordovan longwings and tassel loafers.
Despite the weight of the cloth, the coat is "skeleton lined" only at the shoulders. The more I learn about clothing, the less I appreciate a fully lined jacket.
A note on button holes: the best of the old jackets had four button holes, evenly spaced. Don't forget that the coveted "3/2 roll" is a derivative of the old tunic cut military uniforms, not just a fashion detail. Note also how the buttons are sewn on a full half inch from the edge of the coat. This is a sturdy garment meant to last a long time, not a fashionable thing meant to work for a year or two. Likely 60 years old, I just got it, and intend to see at least ten Winters use from it. No doubt I will.
The previous owner had the pants let out...all the way out...so much so that some extremely talented tailor in the alterations department built this gusset in the back from scrap cloth rescued from elsewhere in the suit. I'll have them taken in, but it's almost a shame to destroy that gusset.
From, as you may by now have guessed, the High Holy Brothers, back when the Brothers were all High and Holy.
As I stated at the start, I got this one in trade, for a bottle green blazer by J. Press, a vintage tweed jacket, and a pair of tan gabardine slacks with side tabs and forward pleats by Ralph Lauren Purple Label. Fair enough. Had I paid the $125 it was priced, it still would have been worth every penny. Think of the kind of junk you would have to settle for on sale at Marshall's for that price.
Vintage clothing, whether found for pennies at a thrift shop or bought at a fair price from a well respected seller, is usually worth every penny.