09 November 2013

Reader Questions : Time and Place

The Scottish Hebrides. photo:internet

Reader Jakob writes:

My name is Jakob, I am a 22-year old student from Slovenia. At the moment I am studying abroad, in Edinburgh.

Seeing that I am in Scotland my first thought, in regard to this was that I should find some good tweed. And indeed, I have found them, at a much lower price that a new garment would cost me. But then I have found your blog  and suddenly I was asking myself this question: Why are the shops here so much more expensive than what you're writing about? Is it a cultural thing or am I looking in all the wrong places? Just to give you some reference - a tweed jacket (in Harris Tweed or of similar quality) would cost one 30-40GBP. A shirt would be 6-15GBP (depending on the brand). The Scots seem much more quality and brand-conscious than what you seem to be experiencing in the States... Any idea why?

That's an interesting question, and it speaks to the fact that, simply put, no two thrift shops are the same. Each one will have a different assembly of hodge-podge items for sale, and location plays a big role in what you're likely to find there. For example, it shouldn't be surprising in the least that a Scottish thrift shop would have more tweed than a similar store elsewhere, any more than good cheese is more easily had in Paris. 

Many thrift shops these days have caught on to the fact that they can selectively up-charge their better items when they find them, but in a thrift store anything is only worth what someone will pay. What winds up happening is the items that hold value with the customers will be singled out. In Scotland, I imagine, a good tweed is something still generally appreciated by most people. 

Is it a cultural thing? Maybe. America has led the charge to a pyjamas-all-day-every-day lifestyle for generations, and we tend to dress more sloppy and casual than any other nation. Dressing in tailored clothing is largely a choice these days for those who care. As such, things like tweed jackets have less value on a broad level. Conversely, a commemorative World Series Red Sox jacket will get a high ticket. It's all about time and place.

He also writes:

there is a very old debate society here, at the university, and they meet in black tie. I am very interested in joining, and I'm asking you for some advice - how can I make black tie a bit more interesting? I mean, I know it's a fixed set of rules, and I don't mean to go there in a red tuxedo. I'm just wondering if you have any idea what some little touches can be, that could make it just that bit more interesting, so I don't turn up there dressed exactly the same every single time...

My best advice here is not to mess around too much. Simplicity is the essence of why black tie looks so good. You might look for a velvet jacket to swap out for the standard, or simply get a bow tie in your schools stripe or tartan, or a set in grey glen check, to wear instead of black. For a festive occasion, red socks could work, but even that might be pushing it, especially at an old club in the habit of wearing black tie. It can be a fun look to wear a tartan jacket or trousers with black tie, but I'd a void doing it in Scotland. You don't want to be the guy who's trying to hard to stand out.  And no, don't show up in a red tuxedo.


Anonymous said...

Re: Black Tie

Please see The Black Tie Guide, http://www.blacktieguide.com/, it provides excellent information about the wearing of black tie, and also it's history.

Please, don't use anything but a black tie (hence the name), but trews might be acceptable, especially in Scotland.

The best way to stand out in black tie is to do it exceedingly well, with a good cut dinner jacket, a waistcoat (if not using a double breasted jacket), a white linen handkerchief (until you feel ready to explore colours), and possibly a carnation in the button hole.

Unknown said...

Firstly, thank you very much for your answer!
Secondly, I'll try to look for other shops, as it is true that most of the ones i've been in are in richer parts of town where people know, appreciate, and buy old things more. The selection of good quality items, on the other hand, is often better in the richer areas.
Time and place, as you've said.

Thank you for the other answer, as well.

Chris Wilson said...

As a native Brit, I can say that another problem might be translating "thrift store" into British English - we don't have anything called that, but we have two different things. The thing that, I think, matches best would be what we call a "Charity Shop". These are run by various charities and accept donations from the public of clothes and the like, sell them fairly cheaply and are staffed by volunteers. The second type of shop would be a "Vintage" shop - these buy their stock (sometimes from charity shops) and they sell it at a commercial (though much cheaper than new) rate and pay their staff.

You are more likely to find nice stuff in a vintage shop quickly as someone had already got rid of the rubbish, but you're paying for that. But you can get some fantastic stuff at the charity shops, particularly ones in affluent areas of cities - if you invest the time. To identify the charity shops their names will be the name of a charity (British Heart Foundation Shop or Oxfam Shop or Christian Aid Shop).

Ian said...

I would say 40-40 for a genuine Harris jacket is about the going rate for re-sellers on ebay ad entrepreneurs like your good self G.

I wonder if Jakob is really looking in thrift stores (actually 'charity shops' in British English) or vintage shops (which add a sometimes hefty mark up).

Tweed has been surfing a trend here in the UK and charities are wise to that. I know Oxfam (with a huge national network of shops) sort their clothes and ship trendy vintage items to trendy studenty neighbourhoods with the appropriate markup. Also genuine tweeds are hoovered up by specialist sellers.

My favourite place for a bargain is a shop that obviously gets it stock locally and prices it up there and then. I got a genuine Harris the other week and was genuinely knocked out. Cost me £10, which is twice what a jacket would usually be in that shop. They realised it was a bit special, but could easily have got double or triple for it.

Redcoat said...

Good answers from Wardrobe and heraldik; we will not even bother to address the midnight blue fallacy - black tie should not be messed with. Worth buying a really good quality dress shirt (no frills)though, white or, daringly, cream if you can find it and some understated studs and cuff links.

Nick said...

Edinburgh is (mostly) a classy and quite expensive cities, where tourists from Britain and abroad go to sight-see and shop -- that's one reason for pricing to fit the market, but AW is bang on with the prime reason: "What winds up happening is the items that hold value with the customers will be singled out. In Scotland [NB and England and all the rest of the UK], I imagine, a good tweed is something still generally appreciated by most people".

I'm buying myself a very nice brand new tweed jacket next week from a great selection at Marks and Spencer - for not much more than a hundred quid. They're traditional and 'trendy' all at once on this side of the Atlantic.

Barbara said...

Not only your dress style is great, but your taste in Beer is the same.
Someone mentioned to get Tegernseer, in my opinion the best Bavarian Brewery.
Unertl is good as well.

Reading your blog makes me cry in my pillow. Dressing for Men is so much more relaxed and unfussy than for women.
Would wear a modified Mens Suit in a minute if I could find one.
Best regards from Munich in Bavaria.

Pigtown*Design said...

Jakob... when I lived in Wales, i often found the best things in the worst parts of town, and i know that there are some pretty bad parts where you are! Because not everything donated a charity shop comes from the area surrounding it, you might find some great things in a worse area.

Also, my friends in Cardiff have a great blog on clothes, especially vintage, and you can get some tips about tuxedos here. http://bit.ly/194OMeC

james at 10engines said...

@Jakob - jumping in here as a former resident of Edinburgh and thrift shop hound. If you are looking in Amrstrongs in the Grass Market - yes - prices are in the 30-40 quid range but then they have done all the digging for you. The little charity shops around town (Cancer Research etc) esp towards Leith and Stockbridge way can be great. Scored an Aitken and Niven tweed suit ages ago (trousers seem to have mysteriously "shrunk" after 10 years... ahem. http://10engines.blogspot.com/2012/04/omil-calls-it-farmhand-chic.html) Completely agree w @heraldik above - just do black tie "right" and you will already stand out...

Joe said...

Many thanks for all the advice from British natives. I'm learning quite a bit here.


I love my midnight blue tuxedo.

Joe said...


Sadly, German beer is underrated in the United States. With so much attention in "the craft beer movement" being focused on overly hoppy beers with too much alcohol, the pleasures of a perfect clean, pure lager are a welcome relief. Anyone can throw in a ton of hops or adjunct ingredients in the tank, but it takes an expert to brew pilsner and other traditional types of lager, where there is nothing to hide behind.

Unknown said...

Thank you all for all the input!
@Chris Wilson, Ian: The prices I stated were at charity shops here - I lodge in Stockbridge - (I check them all quite often). Armstrongs can actually be a bit cheaper for tweed, (30-35 I was very surprised when I saw that) but their stuff is usually much more worn. Still, charity shop prices are much, much lower than new, so...
@Pigtown*design, James at 10engines: So far I've been to the Stockbridge and Nicholson street "areas" (for those unfamiliar - here you'd have many charity shops rather close by, as things often get donated directly to the shop, and in some areas people donate more and shop more, so you get bigger a bigge number in one place) I've been meaning to go to "less nice" areas to check in those shops, but didn't get round to it yet... A far as I've heard, charity shops have realised that they can charge more for "premium items" and so there can be huge differences between different charity shops - on one end you'd have shops that would sell a dinner suit for 15-25 quid and a tie for 1-2, and on the other one shop that sells ties for about 7-15 and a dinner suit for 250!! (I know it's still much cheaper than the retail price of around 1000, that it'd cost new - they even stated the retail price on the tag...). The shift in price has occurred not long ago (that's what I hear) with the arrival of the new "retro" trends and with greater media exposure. See this for reference:

BlueTrain said...

I was once able to buy a custom measured Harris Tweed jacket with matching vest (waistcoat) at an affordable price (at least, I was able to afford it then) but that was about 45 years ago. However, I'm not sure I even would these days, given contemporary "undress" standards. And besides, it isn't that cold around here. You don't suppose one could find any Palm Beach suits in my size in very many places, do you? Oh, never mind! Don't wear suits, either. And if my boss didn't, I would wear a necktie, either.

I was in Edinburgh summer before last. Didn't have time to hit the thrift shops but I also didn't stay in Edinburgh either. Stayed on the other side of the river.

Unknown said...

Why not wear suits? The suit is a piece of clothing that will, if done properly, make you look better and more distinguished, as well as show respect to the people around you. And, by all means, don't wear tweed in Palm Beach… Scotland, though, is a different matter. As G said – time and place.
I know that nowadays there are increasingly fewer opportunities to wear suits, or even more "casual" dress, such as sports jackets and the like. I mean, at my age I may be perceived to be overdressed even if I only wear a jacket to University... Still, I opt to do it. Why? I feel better, I look better, and I view these clothes as investment pieces that I’ll use for years to come, since I think that as I get older I'll need to be more nicely dressed anyway. Or I'll want to be, since I find the slobbishness of today's menswear leaves something to be desired, so I wish to be one of those people that don't "conform" to this increasingly sloppy culture. I think that every now and again humanity needs a bit of counterculture. And as countercultures of the past expressed their dissent through dressing in a non-dressy manner, maybe today's generations should "rebel" through dressing nicely, in a way that shows that we care... I know, I am at the risk of sounding very hipster now, and, please, don't perceive me as that. Some people may argue that dressing in any way we like shows off our individuality. But isn’t it so that the greatest levels of creativity are often found within a very strict set of rules?

Ian said...

Ian: The prices I stated were at charity shops here

- my apologies for being patronising. I guess the charity shops are wise to our game! Perhaps it's just the difference between a captial city and my provincial outpost (Sheffield).


"With so much attention in "the craft beer movement" being focused on overly hoppy beers with too much alcohol..."

Yes! I'm glad someone else is saying this. Can we have a whole post please.

Pigtown*Design said...

I think that charity/thrift shops in some of the nicer areas are "wise to the game", as they price things at a premium. I went to a Goodwill in a good area the other day and they were charging $8 for a Pottery Barn mug. That's full retail! But I went to another Goodwill in a more marginal area and the price for a nearly identical mug was $2. But i skipped all of that and bought a late 1800's Farmer's arms mug from England for $4.

Joe said...


You illustrate the point well. Its all about what people are willing to pay.

Ian 3:36,

Long winded dissertation on beer coming soon.

Unknown said...

No problem, it's my fault,anyways, for not stating that clearly in the question. I guess there is a difference between cities. I have been only to a charity shop in Stirling other than in Edinburgh, but prices were pretty much the same!
Yes, I've been planning to go to a more "marginal" part of town... Just haven't found the time yet. Maybe I'll go during this week. If there will be a significant difference in prices I'll post it in a comment here, just for the sake of knowledge... (If mr. G is okay with that.)

BlueTrain said...

Well, sir, Mr Gaksek, the reason I don't wear a suit more than once every week or two is because they are expensive and if in fact I do wear them, they will wear out within a couple of years, or at least the pants will (see above for complaint about the pants). But I take your point, though if you take the jacket off as soon as you reach the office, there really isn't much point, is there? And my comuting is by car, so any elegance on my part is wasted.

The funny thing here is that a business suit, also (formerly) known as a lounge suit or sack suit, was an informal garment. At least it isn't something you would wear to a formal affair, day or night, so it must be informal, though it is not "country attire" either. But I will also admit, like you, to often being overdressed. I go to a concert and find myself one of the few people wearing a necktie. And speaking of concerts, the next concert we have tickets for is Max Raabe. Now that is one man who dresses up!

Ever heard of Hasen-Braeu? That was the local drink when I lived in Germany about 45 years ago. And now my daughter lives in Germany. Where has the time gone?

Neil said...

If you get a chance try charity shops in county towns like Perth, Peebles or Kelso. I have bought great quality bespoke tweed a couple of times in Glasow vintage shops at similar prices to Edinburgh , unbeatable value. As Guiseppe says you have to be persistent and patient.
Ii recently got a 1950s tweed from a bespoke tailor in Aberfeldy, great heavy gun club but dry cleaning does not get rid of historical body odour. Any ideas, or do I just give it back to the charity shop......

Nick said...

"long winded"? definitely the hoppy beer then.

Ian said...

Neil - I've found bicarbonate of soda to work on getting BO smells out where dry cleaning has failed. Make up a thick solution and spread it on the pits or where the worst stink seems to be. Leave it a few days and then it should just rinse out. Don't use hot water and let it dry out slowly and gently. No wringing out. Akin to hand washing a wooly jumper.

Also heard that alcohol works but never tried it myself. Surgical spirit aka rubbing alcohol from a chemist or something clean like vodka works, according to the internet anyway. Single malts are out. Whilst probably lending some authenticity to the tweed, you don't want to replace the BO smell with that a disterilley.

james at 10engines said...

@neil - yes a good one in Peebles (used to live nearby) and @Pigtown -never heard of farmers arms china till you mentioned. bingo - scored a box on ebay - good call.

Unknown said...

BlueTrain: Sir, I agree with you entirely… Many jobs don't require a suit anymore, which is true. And the trousers do get much more worn than the jacket, that’s why in the past there were often two pairs of trousers per jacket. This is unheard of nowadays, sadly. The price, though, depends… Mr G's blog, for instance, is intended for dressing well while paying much less than retail. I know it isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's a great and very price-effective way of doing it.
I know, yes, the “ordinary” suit that most men se today as a formal garment used to be far from that, just an everyday item men would wear most of the time. I mean, in its beginning, black tie was considered quite informal…
Neil: Thank you very much for the suggestion, Sir; it seems I’ll be travelling a bit when I have the time! The only other town in which I went into a charity shop was Stirling. And I bought a tweed at very much the Edinburgh price, so to say… (I don’t mind though… It’s an old-timey Dunn&Co Harris Tweed (in some kind of tan orangey colour - amazing), at least twice as thick as what you’d buy today. And, in addition to all that – it’s never been worn.) The high price must come from the tourists that come into town, many of them going into charity shops with the purpose of buying tweed…

UK Guy said...

Very much enjoying the Blog, as usual, and also looking forward to winter - already consider it tweed-season here in the UK! A word of caution, though, to Jakob or any other non-natives in Scotland, when he contemplates adding tartan to his black tie ensemble (or anything else, such as a tie, jacket, etc.): many Scots take clan affiliations very seriously, and may take a dim view of outsiders wearing a tartan to which they are not entitled by family, locality or regiment. Furthermore, if you don't understand the history of Scottish conflicts and rivalries, you may even be displaying something offensive or provocative in certain company or events. Don't be paranoid, but be aware, or take advice from a local. I'm unlikely to wear any tartan at all (as a complete Sassenach), but would really only consider the traditional "Universal" tartans (traditional ones like Black Watch, Hunting Stewart, Jacobite and Caledonia) - but probably not the new-fangled Universals like Scottish National, Flower of Scotland, Brave Heart Warrior or Pride of Scotland.

Unknown said...

UK guy: Regarding kilts and tartan: I had the honour of speaking to a clan chief a week ago and he said that non-Scots can wear kilts and tartan, especially outside Scotland, as long as they aren't pretending to be Scottish. Non-aligned tartans (the universals that you mentioned, or club or University tartans) are the least problematic for us, family tartans are OK outside Scotland.
I wouldn't add anything tartan to my black, tie, though, no… And surely not here. At the moment I have a vintage 3-piece peak lapel dinner suit, with an additional black velvet waistcoat and a cummerbund. So that gives me quite a lot of options when dressing, as I can switch those three items around to avoid being dressed exactly the same for every black tie occasion. All of those things come from charity shops, of course. The price for the whole lot: 50 pounds. Far from the expert treasure finds of Mr G and the like, but I love it!

Anonymous said...

We stayed in the Borders in the summer, travelling into E'burgh for the Festival etc.
Our hosts said that Perth is supposed to be the charity shop capital of Scotland. All those poor old ladies who retire there and their treasured stuff gets taken to Oxfam etc
While anyone can wear a kilt and tartan... please don't unless you've got the height and frame, pale skin and ginger hair to carry it off! Otherwise you'll look like a joke.
Best, Herts

Unknown said...

Haha, you're right... Fortunately I do. (well, not very ginger, but just a bit)
Also, note to self: Go to Perth.

BlueTrain said...

I ought to mention that I wore a kilt when I got married. Three other men in the wedding party also wore a kilt. That was in my Scottish country dancing days. Among the three of four kilts I owned over the years, one was in Hodden Grey and I recall seeing one gentleman wearing a plain kilt.

And did you know the French have pipers? They do not wear kilts or tartan. Even the Brazilian Marine Corps has a pipe band.

Regarding suits (again) and how often they are worn these days, it depends largely where one works. If you work "way out" in the suburbs, as I do, dress is far more casual than it would be downtown where mostly the old rules still apply. One boss I once had joked that wearing a sport coat was like wearing "half a suit." One firm he was with would send you home if you showed up dressed like that.

Neil said...

The bibcarb worked a treat though I may have overdone the paste and it is taking time to rinse out but the odour has gone. Many thanks . I will now send it back to Aberfeldy to be taken in and possiblly re-lined and preserve this for the next generation of tweed wearers.

Ian said...

Neil - glad it worked.