26 February 2013

Painting With a Broad Stroke

The Suit Room has had some things to say lately. Both of his last two pieces, one on the virtues of being traditional without being rules-bound, and the other on the merits of thrift, resonate well with what I try to do here at An Affordable Wardrobe. He doesn't write much, but when he does it's worth reading.

23 February 2013

Opposites Attract

A pair of Albert Thurston braces, new in the box with a price tag from the Andover Shop is a rare enough thrift store find. When they're bright orange with white leather fittings, it's awe inspiring. I wish I could claim credit for digging these up, but that honor belongs to Zach. After a bit of cajoling, I managed to talk him into trading for a pair of black watch trousers and a vintage shantung tie from J. Press.  (Zach and I trade thrift store finds with some frequency. Look for an upcoming series of posts about our swaps)

Lately, my taste in trousers has turned almost exclusively to forward pleats, and as a result, I've been collecting and wearing braces quite a bit. I have a good number of pair in vibrant stripes and colors, but find myself reaching most often for a somber set in navy with a hunter green rear blade and brown leather fittings. These orange ones, for as great as they are, can be tough to wear. I find that their best counterpart is their exact opposite, navy blue.

Fist time out, with a Brooks Brothers shirt ($5.49) and a Liberty of London tie ($2.99), both in navy and white. This combination was kept in check with charcoal flannels and a Polo navy double breasted blazer.

Second run, a week later, and the same tie makes another appearance, this time with a vintage white oxford shirt with unlined, long pointed collar, not unlike the one Bruce Boyer recently commissioned from Mercer. It's perfect for a collar pin.

This time, with a Southwick glen check suit with faint blue overcheck in cashmere blend (the result of another trade with Zach). A little more bold than the blazer and flannels combo, but still relatively classic.

Bright colors are a great thing to bring into your wardrobe once  you become a confident dresser. They can be daunting, but they don't have to be. Remember, temper them with quieter, classic pieces and let them do the talking.

p.s. given that the rear blade and leather are white, these are pretty much a guarantee with black tie.

p.p.s. new stuff in the Shop, including a rare 1940s Continental style suit. Check it out.

20 February 2013

An Exception to Every Rule

  ...or in this case maybe two...
A big, chunky cardigan sweater,
Not a shawl collar, but an actually knitted notch lapel,
Not generally a fan of native American motifs for myself (first exception to the rule), but there was no denying this one. A great color scheme in tan, grey, navy and burgundy works this one seamlessly into my wardrobe. The wooden buttons are a bonus.
Big pockets, with turned down tops, well made enough to handle the weight of keys or a cell phone without pulling the sweater out of shape,
The excellent embroidery follows through on the back. Found by Mrs. G at a thrift shop for $4.99. I think she was as surprised as anyone that I liked it.
People were paying big money for this stuff 20 years ago when Ralph was doing it.
Rugby even had a try. No comparison. I like my no name 1970s sweater better.

It's the sort of thing an old hippie might wear while he bores his Grandchildren with the same handful of stories where he whines about how much better "The Sixties" were. Or something fit for an Arizona retiree. But that's not the worst of it. This thing is 100% (gasp!) acrylic. That's right. Everything about it is wrong. But what can I say? I love it. At least it wasn't $400.

We all have our ways of dressing, and we set up rules about what we will and won't wear, whether we admit it or not. But every now and then an item comes along that speaks to you that breaks all those rules. When that happens, you can either reject it out of hand as being against regulations, or embrace it. I guess this means I'm becoming more confident in my own style. Or else I really just don't give a damn what people think. Either way, it's fine by me.

The only hard part is avoiding "irony" when I wear it.

11 February 2013

Snow Survival

The blizzard that hit the Northeast this weekend was certainly a big one, and I for one loved it. It's true, many people experienced a lot of damage from it, and our thoughts are with them. But for my family and I, it was mostly an adventure. No power loss, plenty of food in the fridge, despite my refusal to raid the grocery store for gallons of milk and loaves of bread, and for the kids, a magical snow fall. Mrs. G got a few days off and the kids loved that too.

I was at work Friday night, as usual, selling the neighborhood the requisite beverages for a snowbound weekend. People sure do drink a lot of fancy stuff when there's nothing else to do. After an early dismissal at 7:00 pm, I treated myself to a warming glass on Calvados, an apple cider brandy from Normandy, just the thing to sit back and enjoy the snow.
For dinner, a heaping bowl of beef stew with Guinness I had cooked up for six hours starting at 8:00 am. Guinness Foreign Extra, the stronger, drier, hoppier version of Guinness Stout, is an old treat thankfully now available in the US. 
Saturday morning saw my front stairs hidden in snow. The top of the retaining wall just visible to the right is five feet tall. 
I may be notorious for the fun I like to poke at what I call the "Urban Lumberjack" look, but in that much snow LL Bean Maine Hunting Shoes and a vintage 1950s pair of thick wool buffalo plaid hunting pants, held up by braces, are really just the thing. Perfect for my hike to work. (Yes, I worked Saturday at one of only two stores open in the neighborhood.)
Scenes from the walk to work. Plenty of people out on skis and snow shoes. Everyone having a good time. It was nice to see, actually.

Around 4:00 pm one of my best food customers, a British lady, had made the trip in for some cheese. I saw that she had a bag from the nearby convenience store, the only other place open. With the coffee house closed and the work pot out of commission, I asked her whether she knew if they had coffee by the cup for sale. She was pretty sure they didn't. She also returned twenty minutes later with a French press full of fresh, good coffee and three mugs for me and the boys. That act of kindness will remain one of the most memorable things about this storm for me.
Sunday I got to spend some time with the snow bunnies in the back yard, getting wet and cold and digging snow forts. People complain about this kind of weather a lot, but not me. The kids love it, and so do I.
Later that evening, Mrs. and I ventured down to the local Square, which had mostly awaken from its Wintry slumber of the day before. Walking was an adventure, but a fun one. I've always the loved the way a lot of snow can transform the most familiar places into a new land.
A dinner of braised duck leg and locally brewed cask conditioned beer, in this case Jack's Abby Private Rye Biere de Garde of Framingham, Masachusetts,  finishes things nicely.

Happy Blizzard everybody!

08 February 2013

The Path to Truth

This sweater is from the now defunct Rugby Ralph Lauren, available last Fall. It looks nice, was likely made in China, probably cost $200 on sale, and would likely not fit anyone larger than a 32 waist/38 chest.
I found this one yesterday at a local thrift shop for $4.99. It's old, as if we needed more proof that anything Rugby did well was really just to knock off something that was already good.
It's from Lands' End, was made in Scotland, likely never cost anything near $200, and fits a grown man of average size. Add Maine Hunting Shoes and dungarees.

The nerdy menswear corner of the internet is and has been all abuzz for some time over the demise of the Rugby Ralph Lauren line. I was going to try to avoid the topic, but when I found this sweater yesterday, something about it occurred to me that needs saying.

For some guys, especially the young, rail thin and fashionably conscious, Rugby and brands like it were a godsend. "Preppy" stuff has been all the jam these last few years, and this was a chance to combine that trend with the other all too prevalent trend of wearing clothes much too tight.

For some other guys, it was a joke, a cartoon. It was nothing more than an overpriced cheaply made knock-off of a manner of dress they had held near and dear all their lives, in direct opposition to fashion and trends. It was in its way infuriating to see this anti-fashion become so...fashionable. It made stuffy types feel the same way hipsters do when the world at large finally discovers the band they've been listening to for years.

Praise and complaints abounded. The menswear community being what it is, anonymous guys couldn't help but scream about it one way or the other. That's what I call successful marketing. Makes me wonder why they pulled the plug.

Personally, I could do without it. I'm in my mid thirties, and so is my waist size. I like to dress like a grown-up, and much of what Rugby offered was to young and skinny for me. Some of it was great, most of it, like the sweater above, could be found in its better form elsewhere for less money with a little thrifty perseverance. But I am glad that these brands exist.

Young people are generally silly.They have yet to figure themselves out completely. In the past, matters of dress were learned from a boys father. My generation and the one that followed have come of age largely without the benefit of this kind of fatherly guidance. I am a lucky exception, but many of my fathers generation are responsible for the laxness of rules and manners that we are living with today. Brands like Rugby are more likely to lead a young man to the better version of itself down the line than say t-shirts and sweatpants. What do I care if it was kind of silly? If Ralph and J. Crew want to deck out a whole generation of guys on penny loafers, bow ties and Nantucket reds, how can that be all bad? It's better than a lot of the options out there, and there's nothing wrong with this stuff being "cool", even if its only for a while. Eventually, these kids will grow up, and so will there taste. They won't be afraid to wear a coat and tie, and they'll know the difference one day between the good stuff and the junk.

Besides, it has been nice not be looked at like I'm some kind of weirdo these last few years.

02 February 2013

The Old Casual

It really is amazing to think about how the definition of the word "casual" as it applies to our modes of dress has changed so drastically in so little time. I'm not going to complain that things are generally more comfortable for people these days, because I'm glad to wear jeans and sweaters to drop the kids off at school and go to the supermarket. Nor am I going to wax rhapsodic about some bygone era that I know of only through movies and books and pine for a time that was done before my birth. But I will trot out what used to be considered casual dress on a Saturday afternoon  now and then.
Dark shirts are not something to be used lightly with a jacket and tie, but it can be done. I've written on this before. I usually wear this shirt alone with khakis or jeans, but given its color scheme in navy, hunter green, and gold, it can take a tie sometimes. I think the trick is to remember what casual used to mean, and stick with tweeds and other textured, soft fabrics. I'm sure that the combination pictured above will garner wailing and gnashing of teeth from the purists for both the use of a dark shirt and the overt four pattern combination, but so be it. I find it to be a nice change of pace now and then from the standard light colored shirt. And as much as we lament the loss of stricter codes of dress, not having one gives me the freedom to wear this if I want to, and that's not all bad. Besides, it is Saturday.

Charcoal grey whipcord trousers with deep forward pleats from the Andover Shop held up with braces complete things. On the feet, argyle socks and cordovan longwings, outside a tan cashmere coat, brown corduroy cap and brown leather gloves.

The old casual lives somewhere between the new super-casual and dress clothing, so tread lightly. It's not for everyone, and even if you can pull this off I suggest using this trick sparingly. But it is fun when it comes off well.