29 December 2012

The Virtues of Patience (or Bang for the Buck)

I recently found the opportunity to wear a new/old shirt that had been hanging in my closet for some time. Made in Italy of very fine cotton, a bargain for $5.49:
Note how nicely pressed it is, courtesy of the Rowenta iron Santa saw fit to bring me. More on the later.
I couldn't find out much about this "Louie" label, but my gut tells me it was a house line from Louis Boston. It's Italian, clearly expensive, and in keeping with the overall style of the clothing that came out of that store in the 90s.
It's touched with all the little details you might expect to find on a custom shirt, like these reinforced tabs at the shirt tails,
nicely rounded cuffs, and very thick buttons.
The contrast club collar is appropriately short, though the collar band is fairly wide, giving it a bit of a 90s look, but in a very Alan Flusser kind of way that I can happily accept.

So, what's this got to do with patience? Readers may remember that back in December of 2009 I received my first made to measure shirt from online outfit Deo Veritas. That shirt, with it's contrast button down collar and three button contrast cuffs, caused no end of stink amongst the commenters who rightly pegged me for a rube. But I liked that shirt and still do. If I weren't an inch bigger in the waist than I was then I'd still wear it. Shortly following, I ordered two more. They arrived in January of 2010. Both were ordered with contrast club collars, and both arrived with a collar round at the tips and long in the points. Not exactly what I or many of you would call a club collar, they too sparked no end of comment. While ironing the shirt pictured today, it occurred to me that this is more what I was after when I placed that second order with Deo Veritas. A similar shirt, in blue and white stripes, but with a better cut club collar and a roomier fit. Back then, I preferred closer fitting shirts, but the older I get the more I appreciate some room to move. Not to take anything away from my experiences with Deo Veritas. The service and quality were great, and I would still recommend them to anyone that asks.

The point, which I'm sure I've made before, is that too much thrift shopping will spoil you. After years of having committed myself to the effort and time commitment, I know that almost anything I want will turn up eventually, even something as unusual as a striped shirt with contrast club collar and round cuffs. It makes it hard to pay full whack for anything after a while. The shirt I had made for $75 languishes now in my closet, while it's $5 replacement will enter the regular rotation. As this photo of laundry drying in the shower proves, blue and white shirts are a silly thing to by at high prices:

So here come the bad advice. What about a gift certificate? Christmas having just passed, I'm sure many of you have some to spend, and the fact that you read this blog means there is a likelihood that you were given that gift certificate because someone knows you're just too damn picky to be given clothing as a gift. When given no choice but to pick out new things, how does one use free money most effectively? I'm of the belief that gift certificates may be best spent on some sort of crazy frivolity, something you would never sensibly by yourself. 

Despite being a fully grown man, my parents still insist on giving me money in an envelope for my birthday. I have long since given up on politely scoffing at the act, and instead accept it graciously and then use it to pay some bill or other. This year, that money was presented in the form of a gift certificate to the Andover Shop (filled out on the old Royal typewriter no less). My father said " now you have to spend it on yourself. Maybe you can go get some new shirts." Well, I just proveed that new shirts are a wasted opportunity. What about that doeskin navy blazer by Southwick I've been eyeing? A good, solid choice, and investment to last me years no doubt. But then good friend and fellow veteran thrift shopper Zach pointed out " The chances of you finding a nice Southwick blazer in 42 regular at a thrift shop are pretty good. Get something crazy." And he's right. Something like pink cords with the wales set horizontally, forward pleats and side tabs, that's more like it.

Nothing allows for a heavy dose of frivolity now and then like a lifetime of patient cheapness.

p.s. my apologies for my recent absence. Call it a self imposed Christmas vacation. I needed it, trust me.

p.p.s. look for a revamp of the Shop next week, after my self imposed Christmas vacation ends.

21 December 2012


Few things are as flattering as a celebrity roast. Read mine, among several deserving others, here. I'm honored. Old Yankee Whisky Papa may be thinner, more well spoken, and better looking than me, but we all know that I'll always be the cheapest.
We should have been old men in the old days..... (George Burns at 11:29)

Those Ain't Pants...

Recently I've been without dungarees. The two pair of Wranglers I bought from Shepler's a while back served me well, but eventually shrunk too much to be comfortable. For a while, I was content to live without them, laboring under some false belief that at 36 years old I was too old for jeans. But then I realized that in November and December I was a bit lost without my old uniform of jeans/bean boots/sweater/Barbour, and truthfully, no well dressed American man's wardrobe can ever be complete without some proper jeans. A few weeks back, Levi's had a one day only 40% off sale with free shipping, so I grabbed two pair of good old 501 shrink-to-fit for $56. Not bad.
So I photographed them, and rinsed them, and got ready to write about the vagaries of denim and denim nerds, but before I got a chance, these came along, eclipsing all other trousers in the house:

These ain't pants, they's PANTS. $5.99 at a thrift shop. No tags, but they are really beautifully constructed of some of the softest, most luxurious bits of tweed I've seen, and fully lined in cotton. I suspect Andover Shop, as they were known for patch tweed. Maybe Charlie can confirm this for me after they come back from alterations.
Best of all, they're true patchwork, no repetition of pattern at all to the arrangement of the squares.  These really are made of scraps, as they should be. Too bad I won't have them back in time for Christmas. Not to worry, though. There's always tartan.
I wasn't going to mention Christmas or holidays at all here if I could help it. Frankly, having worked retail as long as I have, I'm downright sour on the whole thing. If it weren't for my children, I'd be completely insufferable this time of year. But I gotta say, Winter go-to-hell pants do help keep me cheery.

17 December 2012


Last year, I acquired this glen check suit with light blue overcheck in a soft wool and cashmere blend by Hickey Freeman through one of my by now notorious trades with the venerable Mr. De Luca of Newton Street Vintage:
I'd wanted a good glen check suit for some time, and this one had a nice scale to it. Large enough to be prominent, small enough to appear as pale grey flannel from a distance of ten feet. I like glen checks best with an overcheck. In the old days I was certain only red would do, but blue is much more understated and workable. Brings the possibility of navy ties into the picture, despite the general black and with nature of the suit.

A suit like this is what I might call an "extra suit" in that it should really only find its place in a man's wardrobe well after he's acquired suits in navy, charcoal, and perhaps the same with some sort of stripes. For someone like me who never really needs so mach as a tie, let alone a suit, it could be better called an unnecessary frivolity. But so be it.  Oddly, in its way it's more useful to me than a navy or grey suit. Given its more casual connotations, it reads less like a business suit and as such feels more comfortable when worn for its own sake. Besides, dare I say it, it actually works as well as (gasp) two separate pieces as it does a suit. I wouldn't give such grotesquely incorrect advice lightly, so please allow me to explain.

For starters, we can see that the suit works quite well in its complete form. It is well constructed with a soft three button stance, darted front, moderate shoulders and side vents, with forward pleated trousers. This gives it just the level of formality that a suit should have.Sharp enough to be worn "in town" (as though that mattered anymore) but not so stiff as to be bound only for business meetings. In this photo, the camera is set about ten feet back, and the glen check pattern so obvious in the first photo is muted from this distance. True, the right sleeve could be a whiff longer, but let's not pick nits.

The trousers work just as well on their own with a vintage varsity cardigan in a big cut with shawl collar. A navy or black jacket would go just as well for a slightly dressier look, while a heavy black turtleneck sweater would be more casual. True, these trousers are half a suit, but glen check trousers are frequently seen alone as a single garment in their own right. As a side note, for men who actually work in businesses that require suits this look works quite well in the privacy on the office. Wear the suit on the commute, with clients, and at board meetings, keep the cardigan in the office for greater comfort while working behind closed doors.

No problem wearing a solo glen check jacket either, especially with dark grey flannels, aka "the pants that go with everything". Like the trousers, glen check jackets exist alone too, and a light grey jacket is something unexpected these days, though still quite correct. Even my nemesis agrees. A younger man could wear this jacket quite well with dark jeans and a crisp shirt, sans tie. Navy pants, never a favorite of mine, would work too. Just don't pair it with black pants. In fact, unless you're in a tux, don't wear black pants...ever.

This approach doesn't work for most suits, as the separate pieces will always look like just that, pieces separate from their counterparts. Stripes are the most glaring example, but I find a separate navy or charcoal jacket just as orphaned looking. Glen checks, being more about pattern and texture, get a pass, if you're careful and you can pull it off. Go halfsies with a suit like this, and you might get three outfits in one.

11 December 2012

All I Want For Christmas....

...is Winter...Snow shovelling, sledding with the kids, no school today, hot cocoa, two pairs of socks, honest to god old fashioned New England Winter...
This photo was taken in my pantry at 11:30 pm, Monday 10 December, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Please note that the window is not only open, but fully wide open. What happened to Winter? Have we killed it?

Before one of you pounces on me for this, I am fully aware that I have mentioned many times my utter distaste for the particularly Boston habit of complaining about the weather, no matter what it may be. But this is not a complaint. It's more of a lament. You see, I actually enjoy a good proper Winter.

When I was a kid, the snow set in before Thanksgiving and was on the ground until April. It was beautiful to see it and fun to play in it. Despite what many people would see as discomfort, I learned to find a particular quiet beauty in it, a great comfort in piling into my layers of wool, stuffing two pairs of socks into Maine Hunting Shoes, everyone pitching in to clear the way, then coming in to a warm house and fresh cocoa. By this time of year, I'd have had that experience a few times. Lately, it never comes.

Sure, it's nice to have balmy weather, but all the time? I'm the kind of guy who believes that you can't have Yin without Yang, that the beauty of a hot Summer day is pointless without an equally beautiful foot of snow in December. For the last few years, not a day goes by that I don't see someone in shorts, and I'm usually a bit damp with sweat in all the tweed and flannel I still insist on wearing. True, I do love the clothes, and I miss being able to wear them so much, but this isn't really about that. It's about balance, and the new lack of it. 

I don't want to start a political or scientific debate over global warming and climate change. Frankly, I wouldn't be able to keep up. Maybe we've just had some mild Winters. Maybe the climate is just changing. Maybe years from now the concept of a snowy Winter in Boston will be an old time novelty, and there will be fewer of us who remember the good-old-tough-old-days. Should that be the case, i will accept it. After all, we can't really change the weather. But it won't stop me from fondly remembering and silently hoping for a good old two foot snow fall.

All I want for Christmas is my Winter back. 

09 December 2012

Modernist Moment

"Les styles sont un mensonge. Le style c'est une unite de principe qui anime les oeuvrer d'une epoch et qui resulte d'un etat desprit characterize. Notre epoch fixe chaque jour son style. Nos yeux, malheureusment, ne savant pas le discerner encore."

Le Corbusier, "Vers Une Architecture", 1923

07 December 2012

Waxing Rhapsodic

Usquaebach 15 Year Old Scotch Whisky

White lace in a cedar chest, Mikimoto pearls, something borrowed, and something blue. And all of it wrapped in a silk dress pointedly not dry-cleaned after the wedding. A dried white rose reconstituted by someone weeping on it years after the fact. And then left to dry again. Such is the refined nose of the Usquaebach 15. On the mouth, this has more fight and spice than the Reserve. It’s like an overachieving middle child overlooked by parents who coddle the baby and cherish the first-born. This wonderful whisky has a great finish on both the fore and aft of my mouth.

I've worked in the fine wine, spirits, and gourmet food trade for fifteen years now. As you might guess, florid language in reference to the smell and taste of things is something of an occupational hazard. I thought I'd heard it all, had become jaded even. But the description above for Usquaebach 15 Year Old Scotch takes things to a new level. I don't know who wrote it, but I can tell you that it compels to me grab a bottle if only to attempt to connect the deranged dots that this description sets out. If my Christmas bonus looks good enough, maybe I'll grab a bottle and translate that into layman's terms for you in the coming weeks...or not. I don't want to spoil the romance, after all.

05 December 2012

Brown in Town

Since we had such a vigorous discussion on wearing "brown in town", I thought the timing was perfect to share this gem of an item I've been sitting on for some time now.
A vintage tweed suit made of cloth so thick the garment weighs almost as much as I do. No tags, but my educated guess says this is the real deal from England, likely made in the late 1940s or 1950s. Actual country clothing, the kind of brown most definitely not intended for town, though if this were staying with me I'd be hard pressed not to wear it twice a week all Winter despite the concrete beneath my shoes.
It's dificult to do justice to thos fabric in words and pictures. A heavy tweed the likes of which is rarely seen these days, in a barley corn weave of tan and brow. A classic English overcheck in red and burnt orange runs trhough it, as well as a good dose of turquoise, yes turquoise, threads. Outstanding.
All the English details are there : side vents, structured shoulders, a nipped waist, three button cuffs with the bottom two functional, and hacking pockets with the pattern perfectly aligned.
The trousers have a high waist with a 14 inch rise, and a pretty serious fishtail back, combined with 1 3/4 inch cuffs (turn ups) and a relatively narrow 8 1/2 inch leg opening.
A button fly with a heavy steel hook at the top, forward plaets and brace buttons finish the job. The fishtail is a full four inches higher than the front waist band. This is a serious garment, a relic of a manner of dress which I see rapidly disappearing in my own lifetime.

The suit is a 42 long with a 37 waist an 31 1/2 inch inseam. If it fits you, visit the Ebay auction by way of the link in the sidebar and it can be yours. If, like me, it doesn't fit you, drool over it and wish it did. May its next owner combine it with a tattersall shirt, wool tie, high top perforated wing tip boots, a rifle, dogs, a flask of single malt and some dreary, damp weather.  Auction ends 12 December.

p.s. many new items hitting the shop soon. Stay tuned.

p.p.s. more of the usual jibber jabber to come, less shameless salesmanship.

p.p.p.s. despite what the arcane rules may state, if you have an iconoclastic streek you can wear this "in town".  I know I would.