29 June 2013

Reader Questions (on orphans)

photo badly taken "in the field", via phone

Thrift shops can be a full with hidden treasure, but they are jammed to the gunwales with exponentially more incomplete things. So what does one do when confronted by a high quality part of an incomplete whole?

Reader Derek writes:
Hi, I've been getting amazing deals on suit coats (Brioni, Canali) or blazers but they are orphaned (that's why I call em blazers now).
They are solid colored (one is blue and one is black). If I purchase some pants of the same brand/line (Brioni/Canali) or different brand such as J.crew,
BUT the pants have the same weight/material and color as the blazers...could I pull off making a suit with these separates with maybe some alterations in stitching and buttons?
I am desperate in trying to make this work, so any suggestions please let me know.

and reader Michael writes:
Recently, I picked up half a Henry Poole suit--beautiful navy wool, with thin chalk stripes every half inch. I've written to Henry Poole to ask if there's any chance that they might still have the material-it seems fairly classic-- so that I might have a pair of matching trousers made. But I recognize how unlikely this is.  I know you've talked about orphans in the past, but can't recall if you ever found it possible to get away with an unholy marriage of a coat such as the one I have with, say, appropriately weighted gray flannel trousers. It does seem a shame never to wear this wonderful piece of cloth. If it were solid, you might regard it as a navy blazer, but those think lines give the game away.

I find myself confronted with this problem quite often, particularly in the matter of suit jackets missing trousers. Many men with jobs still requiring suits tend to take off their jacket as soon as they reach the office, wearing it only in transit and for meetings. The result is suits with trousers that are more worn than their matching coats, and many "orphaned" suit coats wind up donated alone. This is generally, though perhaps not always, the kiss of death. In rare instances the top half of a suit can live on as a sports coat. A navy,glen check, or tweed jacket can sometimes receive new life with new buttons. Brass or knotted leather work best, as these are rarely seen on suits. Summer fabrics such as seersucker or poplin can scoot by as well. Charcoal grey or anything pinstriped, however, will always look like half a suit. 

Michael's question serves to illustrate a particular kind of heartbreak one can encounter in this situation. He found a coat of unimpeachable good quality from a storied producer on Savile Row. Pictured above is the top half of a navy pinstriped suit by H. Huntsman and Sons I recently found, sans trousers. Michael bought his, hoping to resurrect it somehow. In my case, I took mine with me to the trousers, searching for its mate. Suits frequently become separated in thrift shops, and I have reunited more than a few. This time I was unsuccessful, and so I left the coat behind. Broke my heart, but it will never anything more than half of a suit, and no well dressed man would wear such a thing, despite its provenance.

Derek's question poses a different problem. In his case, he found two coats which may well work alone, with perhaps a change to more casual buttons.I might try brown horn on the black coat and white on the blue coat. As for matching them with other trousers and faking a suit,the answer is emphatically no. Better to work with what you have than to fake it.

As much as we may want to salvage every quality scrap we find in thrift shops, your closet shouldn't be an orphanage. I've said it before, but learning to be extremely pick is a key element to thrift shopping well, and avoiding hoarding. Sometimes (frequently), you just have to say no.


8 comments:

Roger v.d. Velde said...

So true. It's disheartening to chance upon a great jacket yet know that it's never going to be anything but an orphaned suit coat. As result it never sees daylight and ends up being a waste of space and money.

I'm not even sure that a black coat always works with a grey flannels, it tends to look like a stroller. For some reason striped blue jackets work casually. I've seen increasing numbers of them on the streets here so I cracked out a similar orphan I had.

On the other hand it is a reminder to anyone who ever gets the chance to have a suit made up, to have an extra pair of trousers made up in the same cloth. A sound investment to increase it's lifespan.

NEW Communications said...

Sad, really. I think we women could buy a suit topic in certain circumstances and wear it with other items (skirts or trousers).

Next Luxury said...

I think it's just hard to let a good suit go to waste. When we stumble across that one special jacket or coat, I like to think about the history behind it. If you're thrift shopping you never really know the true history of who wore it.

I still think every man should keep a collection of these orphans though. Maybe there's a use someday in the future. Thanks, Brian

Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

Case-by-case basis for this approach. I say go the opposite direction than attempting to match uppers/lowers: high contrast. Navy pinstripe jacket paired with tailored white pants and loafers in summer, or wood-brown pants for fall. The look isn't easy, but it CAN be done. Changing the buttons is a good call. Also snug the middle as needed and ease the shoulders.

RMB said...

I affect a stroller, so I don't necessarily see as a problem RvdV's point about black jackets and grey flannels looking like one.

I have an orphaned plain charcoal grey jacket that I wear with ex-hire striped trousers as work wear in my office!

Anonymous said...

Hi, a tip from Sweden, changing the buttons is a good start but you should also consider adding elbow patches. A nice blue pinstripe with white buttons and white elbowpatches goes great with denim, chinos or shorts for spring/summer.

Rudy Palos said...

Once again, great post. I am learning quite a bit on your blog. This post made me realize that most of my finds are most likely orphans. But hey, if it fits well, looks good and you feel good wearing it, I say 'why not?'. I'm gonna rock my orphans for all they're worth. I like your tips for 'casualizing' them as well.

alan Hill said...


It's such a complex issue. Young folk wear charcoal blazers that are essentially orphans; Urban Outfotters have even sold them. I'm not even sure changing the buttons is necessary thesedays, but a question of individual taste I suppose. I have 4 orphans (1 for late Autumn/Winter, 2 for pring/Autumn and another for late Spring/late Summer) that I wear pretty regularly. 1 is a charcoal chalkstripe in flannel from YSL, which I mostly wear with selvedge but have paired successfully with a pair of grey houndstooth trousers.

It comes down to colour, material, pattern, cut (particularly length) and buttons. I'd say length is the key factor, and everything else is a bit of a judgement call.