30 November 2012

Casual, not Sloppy

The word "casual" gets bandied about in reference to clothing or the situations in which we wear clothing so much that it's definition tends to get blurred. For a guy like me who actually enjoys clothing and dressing to suit the occasion, it's all but become a dirty word. It shouldn't be. I may have a habit of being what many consider "overdressed" much of the time, but I'm not such a stiff that I don't know how to wear casual clothing in casual situations.
The outfit above is something I consider to be casual, but adult. A striped button down shirt, favorite vintage wool crew neck sweater and soft flannel pants. In it, I am comfortable and warm, but I also feel like a grown man to be taken seriously. A younger fellow, or someone more fashion conscious, might try the same thing with dark jeans and come off just fine. Topped with a Barbour jacket and tweed cap, this outfit saw me through taking a small child to a doctors appointment, lunch and ice cream to follow, a trip to a thrift shop, after school pick up, playground time, and a night shift at work. I was comfortable and appropriately dressed for each of these situations.

I'm not about to go on some silly rant about how "casual" means a tweed jacket and tie with cords and loafers. There was a time when this was true, but we simply do not live in that time anymore. Ranting about things like men who wear brown shoes in the city and the fact that we no longer wear black tie to dinner at home is not only pointless, it marks one as an out of touch curmudgeon with little better to do than complain about what everybody else is or isn't doing. However, it's not a bad idea to remind ourselves that casual doesn't necessarily mean sloppy. You won't see me out of the house in my pyjamas, and the older I get the less likely it is you'll see me even in jeans. For men who care about clothing, it can be challenging these days to dress in a manner they consider appropriate while not looking like a stiff. As unfortunate as this may be to some of us, it helps to remember that you can be casual and well dressed simultaneously, despite what the world at large may be telling you.

This is my kind of casual:

p.s. If only Ralph Gleason would get off the stage. It's embarrassing.

28 November 2012

Keeping Warm, English and Italian Style

My apologies for my recent absence. After plenty of time burning the candle at both ends, a fella runs out of gas and needs some rest. Time to turn in early and hide out for a bit, keeping warm under a vintage blanket:
Hudsone Bay Comapny Point Blanket, possibly 1940s

so soft, so warm, found by Mrs. G., the inveterate blanket expert, less than $10

Wacky, sexy, Italian movies of the early 1960s, especially the ones starring Sophia Loren, provide welcome entertainment for a guy who is both obsessed with old stuff and actually Italian:

p.s. I've also been plenty busy preparing for the upcoming White Eagle Bazaar. If you live around Boston, don't miss it.

23 November 2012

Reader Questions : Dark Shirts

Reader Stefano writes:

Can a dark shirt be worn with a tie? Long sleeved, that's obvious.

For instance: I own a burgundy OCBD and an olive green, tone-on tone french-cuffed one, both from reputable albeit less-known Italian craftsmen.

I've often read that when a shirt is dark, it can't be worn with a tie, but I've sometimes matched those with a brighter tie and a really dark suit, and they seem to work.

As with most such quandaries in the realm of menswear, there is a short, rule-bound answer and a much longer one involving vague concepts of personal taste and attitude. In this case the short answer is "no". When wearing a coat and tie, it is best to have a light colored shirt. That answer will keep the pedantic rule followers happy.

The long answer is not so simple, and has more to do with a function of personal choice and the situation in which you'll wearing the clothes. In the above photo, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., regarded by many as one of the best dressed men of all time, is seen in a double breasted suit with a black shirt and a tie. I think he pulls it off, but there is a slim possibility that my opinion is being influenced by the fact that its Douglas Fairbanks. I couldn't do this, but maybe you can. In the past I used to try this look occasionally, but remember that my style was a little more garish in my youth then I realized at the time.

I think for serious business or somber occasions, a light shirt with a dark suit and tie is best. It's a tried and true combination that will always be correct. Dark shirts show a greater consciousness of fashion, and as such they are less appropriate for situations where the attention should not be on a mans clothes. However, this is not to reject them out of hand. A dark shirt can give a certain casual air to a suit, if done properly. And a darker shirt with a tweed and corduroys can have it's moments too. If you are going to try this look, my advice would be to avoid sheen at all costs. Stick with matte fabrics that have some texture in the weave so as to invoke a country, weekend vibe. But tread lightly, here. There are a lot of negative connotations that can easily be brought into the mix. Black shirts with suits scream "Mafia" to many people. Guys my age and older still cringe at reminders of the sartorial disaster that was "tone on tone" shirt and tie combinations back in the 1990s.  And there's always the very real risk of looking like a sleazy lawyer.
There is no real right answer to a question like this. There was once, but not anymore. These days, the very fact that you're even asking these kinds of questions and thinking about what you're wearing and how it is perceived puts you far ahead of the pack. Let your own taste, style and level confidence be your guide. Just be careful.

p.s. bet you never would have believed me of I told you I'd tie Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Saul Goodman together on a sartorial matter.

19 November 2012


An Affordable Wardrobe and Newton Street Vintage,
together again
at the White Eagle Bazaar, Saturday, 1 December, Noon till 5pm
Polish American Club, 747 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

15 November 2012

The Jams

Burt Bachrach, Dionne Warwick, mid century office furniture.


14 November 2012

Cheaper Than Cheap

For those of you who say I never share my sources, I'll throw you a bone:
If you live in Massachusetts, print and clip this coupon for 25% off your purchase at any Goodwill save the outlet in Boston now through 30 November. That's cheaper than cheap. The full pdf can be found here.

I won't give you directions to the Goodwill. You'll have to do that homework yourself. Lucky for you any search engine will turn this info up in seconds.

Don't say I never gave you nuthin'.

12 November 2012


The "Continental" cut, broad shouldered with a full chest and low button stance, rendered in rich blue wool serge. An excellent example of the style, circa 1956.
Three open patch pockets, sewn on by hand, and old fashioned creased sleeves.

Roped shoulders, an Italian touch. This is, after all, Continental.

A ventless back, in keeping with the style, a skeleton lining and beautiful finish work on the seams.

The trousers are deeply pleated, with full cut legs that taper to large cuffs at the hems. Note the low set of the belt loops and exterior brace buttons.

From Jack Lipton of Boston.

A little while back, I received a phone call from a peppy octogenarian named Ina. She had seen me in the Boston Globe and wanted to know if I might be interested in looking at some menswear she was cleaning out of the attic. I scheduled a meeting and drove to her house a few days later.

As it turned out, my little girl was in tow for this particle "hunting trip". I prefer to do these things alone, but this time it just didn't work out. As we rang the bell and waited, my daughter clung to my leg in shyness. The door opened, and we were met by a sweet old lady in a dress, nylons, heels and pearls, fully made up at home. She melted at the sight of my girl, and the feeling was reciprocated. Young and old, fast friends at first sight.

Ina had dragged a bunch of her husbands things down from the attic. Having been ten years since his passing, her daughter had urged Ina that it might be time to let some of his things go. She was ready to clean out the house, but I could tell it had taken her some time to prepare. As my daughter enjoyed a cookie and milk in Ina's fantastically cute 1970s kitchen, I had a look at the clothes. There were a couple of good tweeds, some flannel pants, and this blue suit. Ina told me that this suit was the one her late husband Sydney wore at their wedding in 1956. Jack Lipton, as she recalls, was the place to go when you wanted something really special with a bit of European flair. For normal clothes, they shopped at Filene's. This suit was worn only a handful of times, and well kept. Sydney was an electrician, she explained, and rarely wore dress clothes. She was the one with the clothes madness, it seems. She picked out all of these duds for him, but old Sydney was game, and not afraid to wear her picks, not even the pink flannels.

We agreed on a price/consignment plan, but as I got ready to take the clothes out to my car, I could see her hesitate a bit. "You know, Ina", I said, "you don't have to sell me any of this stuff. If you're not comfortable with this, we don't have to do it. If I leave here empty handed, it's no difference to me. I don't want you to be unhappy about this."

She paused for a minute, looked up and said "It's o.k. I know his things will be in good hands with you."

"I promise to do what I can to find Sydney's clothes good new homes."

When we left, Ina gave my girl a hug, and my girl said "I love you, Ina." I swear to god, its a wonder we didn't all burst into tears on the spot.

In this line of work, I come across things in all sorts of random and crazy ways. But it's times like these, the people I meet and the stories they tell about the provenance of the clothes I handle, that really make this worthwhile. I often talk about the meaning that clothes have beyond the simple physical fact of what they are, and if this story doesn't illustrate that I don't know what will.

So, if you happen to wear a 42 short and have the confidence to carry off a sharply tailored mid-century Continental look in a well made garment that is in like new condition, consider this suit. Help me keep my promise to Ina.

10 November 2012

A Blessing (and/or) A Curse

I tidied up my closet today. A big part of that job involved re-organizing my neckwear. For a guy who is practically never required to wear a tie, I have a lot of ties. True, I may have paid less than $5 for any of them, but still...

I have yet to decide whether this is a blessing or a curse...and achievement or the sign of a problem.

07 November 2012

Winter Welcome

Boston saw her first real snow fall today, and I for one welcome it with open arms. Of course, nearly every conversation I had was peppered with complaints, as complaining about the weather, no matter what it may be, is something of a New England pastime. I think we've gotten too soft around here with our recent mild Winters, and I remember when I was a child that snow began to fall in November and didn't stop until April. I view today's weather as a reassuring sign that perhaps mankind has yet to ruin everything. Besides, when you have cold weather, you get to wear tweed.
Tattersall check cotton flannel shirt by Polo, $5.49, old vintage no name wool sweater, $3.99, pretentious ascot, $1.99, vintage English balmaccan coat, $7.99

Blue pencil stripe oxford button down with unlined collar by Lands' End, $5.49, vintage 1970s Rooster "Heatherknit" tie in wool/mohair blend, $1.99, Andover Shop tweed jacket, $8.99

Vintage English tweed jacket, coming soon to the AAW shop, wool challis tie by Polo, coming soon to AAW shop

How can you complain about a little snow when the clothes are this good?

03 November 2012

Book Review: 100 Years of Menswear

A few weeks ago, the kind folks at Laurence King Publishing sent me a copy of one of their new books, 100 Years of Menswear, by Cally Blackman, with the request that I review it here. Since  books are my favorite kind of blog-related free swag to pick up, I of course said yes. Forgive me if I'm a little late to the party with this one. I realize that reviews of this book have been popping up all over in the last few weeks. 

I think this is a fun book. Mostly, it's a photo book with very little text at the front end of each section. That's fine with me, given that it doesn't seem to be intended as a definitive tome on the social ramifications of menswear, but rather a compendium of photos spanning a little of everything men have worn in the last 100 years.What strikes me most about it is the diversity of styles the author sees fit to include. If you're looking for (yet another) sycophantic pin-up book about the long lost splendor of the 1930s, this book isn't for you. If however you realize that the sharp elegance of the magic old days is but one piece in a much vaster puzzle, than you may find something to like here.

Of course, we have the requisite illustrations of the 1930s which the menswear blogs have deemed we are now required to drool over...
and late nineteenth century photos and illustrations of men in morning dress, or playing tennis in white flannel suits, or hunting in tweed three piece suits with plus fours. Like so many other menswear bloggers, I love that stuff, but as someone who also has a checkered past in rock n roll, I realize that these things are far from the full story, and so apparently does Ms. Blackman. She managed to amass in a relatively small book lots of great examples of artistic sub-cultural clothing, every bit as much "menswear" as a top hat and tails.

We have original 1960s Jamaican rude boys, in sharkskin suits, skinny ties, and baggy military surplus coats.
Crazy space aged stuff from the 1970s.
And every form of music related dress code, including androgynous glam, zoot suits, and punk rockers like the ones pictured here.

So much of what we read these days on the topic of such an ambiguous term as "menswear" tends to be rather narrow minded. We like to hone in on our own particular point of interest while failing to even acknowledge that anything else existed. We get hung up on particular moments in the past, and paint them romantically to suit our own ideal of it. We create rigid sets of rules which may or may not have actually existed. This book isn't called "A Guide to Ivy League Fashion", or "Best of Laurence Fellows", because those things are not the whole story in menswear, and as such this book attempts to cover it all. You may not like everything you see in this book, and you don't have to. Personally, I find there to be as many things that I find silly as there are things that inspire me here. But that's the point. Men have worn everything in this book at one time or another. Hippies, punks, businessmen, soldiers, coal miners, artists, and athletes all wore something we can call "meswear".  Knowing the full history of any given topic is always more useful than a rose colored and edited version, and Ms. Blackman has given us a concise set of thumbnails that embraces the full story. I like that.