26 September 2013

Worth Every Penny: Dente's Barber Shop

And speaking of manly hipster beard stuff.....

I like a good haircut, simple and old fashioned. I don't have any especially difficult instructions when I get a haircut, but I do like it to be neat and clean. These days, what you might call "barber shop culture" has become quite hip, and that's fine if it gets young guys into it. You know the stuff: straight razor shaves, clean haircuts with sharp side parts, bay rum aftershave. etc. It's all good stuff, but it can come with a pretty big "street cred" premium. Lucky for me, Dente's Barber Shop in Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. offers all these things too. The difference is that it's honest, and I don't have to pay double for a barber with a handle bar mustache and tattoos wearing $400 Japanese selvedge denim jeans. 

Dente's Barber Shop offers these services not because they're cashing in on a hipster trend, but simply because it's what they do. Operating in one form or another for nearly 100 years in practically the same location, Dente's has been a family business the whole time. Currently run by brothers Ernest and Anthony Saccoccio and their mother Elizabeth, Dente's may not be the most hiply decorated place, but it's without a doubt the most honest and real barber shop I've seen. That's why it's been my regular place for the past twenty years.

Red Sox and Bruins photos line the walls, sports on the t.v., and generally classic rock on the FM radio. No frills, no bullsh*t, just barber shop. I've been getting my hair cut there since high school. My grandfather used to get his hair cut there, every two weeks. Back then, English was rarely heard in the place, only the Italian of the old men who gathered there as much for the social interaction as the haircuts. Hell, half those guys were bald anyway. These day's, it's a younger crowd, but the comfortable atmosphere and affordable prices remain.
Cheap and quality, my favorite combination in any number of things. They even offer the "shape up", a quick clean up trim between full haircuts, for half price.
Old style tools, on vintage 1940s chrome cabinets. You can't fake that.
Plenty of hot towels on hand for your straight razor shave. Ernest is definitely the guy to see for shaves, but you might want to book an appointment. He works slow and carefully, taking a half an hour or more. It's relaxing, so be careful not to doze off in the chair. And don't plan on doing anything important afterwards. You won't want to go to work after that.
These guys get busy, but they move the lines pretty quick. If you do have to wait, and you don't feel like staring into your phone playing candy crush, there are plenty of dude magazine to look at, only slightly out of date. 

If you're in the neighborhood, stop in for a haircut. Located right around the corner from my own shop, you could spend a nice afternoon visiting both places.If you do drag you girlfriend/wife with you, both places have comfortable "girlfriend" chairs, but Davis Square has plenty for her to do too.

A shave and a  haircut at Dente's may cost a little more than two bits, but it's worth every penny. 

Dente's Barber Shop
471 Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA, 02144

25 September 2013

The Value of Things

I shave with an old fashioned style, albeit rather new, safety razor. While its true I appreciate it for its aesthetics and old world charm, I do actually prefer the shave I get when using it. Despite the recent popularity, chiefly among the hipster crowd, of manly nineteenth century, whiskey and beard stuff, the blades have become increasingly hard to find. I know they can be had online, but I'm the kind of guy who doesn't think to buy razor blades until the last one has worn out, and can;t always wait for delivery.

Yesterday, I found them for sale in a local Rite Aid pharmacy, for $7.99 for 10 blades (?!?!?!). CVS pharmacy had them for $7.19 for 10 (again, ?!?!?!?!). So I made the trip out to Market Basket, a local grocery store chain that caters to poor people, you know, the kind of store where the prices are unbelievably low and the produce is always fresh because they go through so much of it. I love the place. Besides catering to lower income folks, they also cater to older people, and store brand blades there were 2/$3.00, packages of 10. They appear to be the same make as the store brand blades in both the other shops I visited. I managed to get 20 blades and a new cake of shaving soap for $4.24. 

The two pharmacies are more convenient, but I have never seen the concept of paying a premium for convenience to be more blatantly true. 

p.s. New stuff in the Shop. Check it out. 

p.p.s. Attention size 38 short: crazy awesome bright red Harris Tweed jacket for sale. Do you dare?

20 September 2013

Pizza Wood

My grandmother lived to cook and to feed people. I know this is true of so many such women of her generation, but I really do consider what she practiced in her kitchen to be art. The older I get, the truer it becomes to me. Her food was always simple and direct, but honest and balanced in a way that I find hard to describe. In the Summer, she kept things light, relying on all manner of fresh New England fish and the plethora of vegetables that my grandfather grew on his tiny patch of urban garden. As the weather cooled, things got more robust. Autumn was a time for packing and curing sausages, hanging them in strands from hooks on the ceiling of our enclosed back porch, occasionally curing an entire pig's leg into prosciutto for months on a hook in the basement. And then there was the polenta.

These days, any gourmand, or for that matter anyone who has cable or has heard of Mario Batali, knows what polenta is. In my youth, only Italians, and Northern ones at that, ate it, and only in the Fall and Winter.  Originally food for Roman soldiers to march on, the stuff is basically a dense cornmeal mush, not a high ticket gourmet side dish. Like so many things we now consider "gourmet", its beauty and essence originate with the poor people.

Nonna would make it sometimes for Sunday dinner after church. She had a stove and table set up in the cellar, separate from the kitchen in her apartment. She'd get a sauce cooking early in the morning, filled with her own homemade sausage and meatballs, and the tomatoes from Nonno's garden. It would sit on low simmer for hours. Then, down in the basement, the two of them would make the polenta together. In a huge pot of boiling water, she would add the cornmeal a handful at a time, letting the grains slip through her loose fist. He would stir constantly, with a big wooden pole. When it was ready, they would take the pot together and dump it onto an old wooden board, about three feet by two feet. The polenta would run and spread, but cool quickly before it ever ran over the edge, forming one giant piece of dense yet fluffy Italian cornbread. 

My brother and I would be called to the cellar to carry it up. It was too heavy for them to do it in their old age.  We would carry the board to the table and set it down, and she would spread the sauce over it, complete with meat and sausage, and then grate pecorino cheese over the whole thing. We'd all sit around it, six of us: Nonna and Nonno, my mother and father, my brother and I, each with a fork in hand, and proceed to eat from that one large piece. The grown-ups would wash it all down with plenty of Carlo Rossi Burgundy, while the kids would get Fresca, with just a whiff of wine. The we'd cut the leftover into squares and eat that for two or three days to follow.

These days I live in the apartment where they lived, cook in her kitchen, and am fortunate enough to use some of her things. Chief among them is the cast iron pan I simply couldn't do without, but the most soulful of her things that I have is the wooden board we used to serve the polenta. I use it when I make homemade pizza, and we all eat from it, no plates, just like the old days. My kids call it the "pizza wood".

If this all comes off as a whiff maudlin, please accept my apology. I just got tired of talking AAW business with you all, and I couldn't come up with anything fresh to say about oxford shirts, navy blazers, penny loafers, striped ties, Brooks Brothers, thrift shops, or jazz.

17 September 2013

New in the Shop: Alterations

Regular readers of this blog know that if I have anything to teach anyone about building a wardrobe successfully out of leftovers and thrift scores, it is the importance of a good tailor. Having clothing properly fitted by a skilled tailor really should be an imperative for anyone who looks to be considered well dressed. With thrift store clothing, it's just as true. In the end, well fitted clothing, no matter what the original provenance, will always look better than any garment requiring alteration. Good clothes are to some degree only as good as their fit.

An Affordable Wardrobe is proud to announce that we will be offering alterations service in-house as of this coming weekend. Find the clothes you need, and I'll fit them for you, deliver them to my tailor, and have them ready in quick time to be picked up in the Shop at your convenience. As far as I know, this service is the first of its kind offered in a second hand store.

I've struck a partnership with Dick Robason and his crew at Le Couturier House of Alterations in Cambridge. A family business with generations of experience in the tailoring of fine garments, they give the kind of expert service one expects when dealing in quality garments, second hand or not. I'm really excited about this new development in the AAW Shop.

p.s. after nearly a month of neglect while I concentrated on setting up the physical Shop, the online Shop has finally been given some much needed attention. Many new items have been added today, with many more to come soon. See it all here.

13 September 2013


I know my last post, the one in which I openly admitted to liking a pair of sandals, was shocking and scandalous. But keep calm. This blog is still written by the man pictured above.

Brooks Brothers vintage 1980s university striped shirt, $14.99; J. Press club tie, $3.99; favorite Southwick blazer; below, Brooks Brothers khakis, navy surcingle belt, penny loafers and yellow socks (full coverage of the feet).

12 September 2013

Free Stuff: Pons Avarcas (or, late to the party, part 3)

Let me begin this post by saying that I've never been a sandals kind of guy. Also, be warned that for the more hard lined traditionalists among you, this post may induce wailing and gnashing of teeth.
I was recently sent this pair of Pons Avarcas for review. Avarcas are a type of sandal made on the island of Menorca off the coast of Spain. The name is actually government protected, much like a wine appellation. When the good people at Avarcas USA contacted me to see if I wold like to try a pair, my first inclination, as some of you might expect, was rejection out of hand, as sandals are not something I have ever considered wearing. But these were different. For one thing, they cover much of the front of the foot, thus giving a much more finished appearance than say, a flip flop. For another, the materials and construction appeared to be of high quality, and the  business is family owned and operated. Lastly, the original avarcas were made using recycled car tired for sole in the 1920s, so both my recycling and "old stuff" buttons were being pushed simultaneously. I'll admit, I was intrigued.

In the last few years, I have come around to wearing proper Spanish espadrilles in Summer, and I'm glad of it. I recently saw an old European guy wearing plaid shorts and a tennis shirt, untucked with both buttons buttoned, with some similar sandals and I couldn't help but admire his effortless euro-prep style. Plus, I do derive from Mediterranean stock, so I figure I can justify at least a try. 

I figured that given the time of year I'd have to put these away as soon as they arrived, but then we got this stinko heatwave in Boston. I can tell you that the leather is of excellent quality as is the construction. I wore them around the house, but was a little shy of taking them outside. They are comfortable, and I felt right away that these would become really great with years of wear.

The next day, I took them out for a spin, with plaid shorts and a tennis shirt, a la our old gent, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them. Besides being comfortable, I actually forgot I was wearing them, a sure sign of the best clothing. Its no good being to conscious of your clothes. Tres gauche. By the third day, I was happy to don them again.

These would be excellent at the beach of course, and on vacation in warm places. But I think they do just fine for daily activities around the old town. Since the whole top of my foot is covered, I tend not to notice them too much out of the bottom of my eyes, you know, like when you have on shoes that are too white.  And while I wouldn't them out to dinner, I see no problem wearing them to the taqueria at noon.

The short answer is, I really like these, more than I would have thought. I feel oddly inclined to apologize, but I won't. Because really, a dose of languid old world European charm is often just the thing to keep all your striped ties and navy blazers from making you look like a stuffy old man.

They cost $75 a pair. Truthfully, I'm not in the habit of splurging for shoes, but when we consider the level of quality here and the fact that good shoes will run you around $300 at least, I'd say they are priced fairly. My penny loafers will still be the go-to choice with trousers in Summer, and the old Quoddy's will continue to see fair rotation. But I can see these becoming the shoe of choice with shorts next July. I guess that speaks to both the quality of this product and the truth in the fact that style is an ever evolving thing.

05 September 2013

Late to the Party, part 2 (or, history)

So, I've always said that it is important to ignore "seasonal" shopping if you're going to thrift shop successfully. But I'll be damned if I haven't been turning up a somewhat inordinate number of hot Summer goods, in this the week after the end of Summer clothes. First, the white bucks, now these. A pair of seersucker trousers, and a knockout pair in navy and white gingham. Just in time to go into storage.
The seersucker pair has no tags, and was likely half of a suit once. The gingham pair wins extra points for being a relic of bygone, pre-brand name history. Often, with old stuff, the provenance leads one to discover an extra degree of un-quantifiable value in the thing itself.

So, internet homework reveals Jack Krawcheck to have been a fixture in Charleston. Besides apparently having founded and owned a great store, he was also quite a guy. This is the kind of thing that meant quality in the days before brand allegiance. I won't get all sappy, or cantankerous, and pine for a bygone era that simply ain't comin' back, but I will reiterate that people who don't value old things, let alone buy and reuse them, tend to miss a certain kind of vital importance to be found in them.

p.s. thanks for the link, British GQ.

02 September 2013

Thrifty Kids, part 4

Lands' End blazer, new with tags ($79.50), $5.99, Polo green tennis shirt, $1.99, Children's Place khakis, $3.99, boat shoes, $4.99
The other day, I had to meet someone for a brief interview at the Shop. The meeting was in the afternoon, and I had the kids in tow. I told them we would go out to lunch at the local taqueria, and that afterwards I needed them to be good and quiet for just a little while so I could talk to another grown-up. When I got dressed in a jacket and tie to meet said grown-up, both children insisted in dressing in kind. The Girl was happy to wear a cute sun dress. The Boy actually argued for a proper shirt and tie, until I assured him that khakis and a tennis shirt with a navy blazer was perfectly acceptable for a warm afternoon in late Summer. Begrudgingly, he finally agreed.
Bare ankles and boat shoes are, of course, de rigeuer. Like father, like son.