30 November 2013

New in the AAW Shop: Gift Certificates

(spoiler alert: shameless self promotion)

Just in time for the Holidays, An Affordable Wardrobe is offering gift certificates, redeemable in both the online store and in person at the Shop. Available through the web shop in $25, $50, and $100 increments, or in any amount  in person.

27 November 2013


What's that I'm always saying about dressing well as a sign of respect for others? Good job, kids. A true bunch of gentlemen in the making. I guess there's hope for us yet.

22 November 2013

An Elusive Basic

I've managed to gather quite a collection of clothing over the years through thrift shopping and bargain hunting, and am happy top have arrived at a point where I feel that my wardrobe is well stocked with qaulity items that should last me for years. I think it's safe to say that I have most bases covered as far as having appropriate clothing for any occasion: navy and dark grey suits for somber, serious times; tweed, corduroy, and flannel for semi formal day wear; bright colors and light fabrics for jaunty Summer moments; and denim, sweaters, tennis shirts, etc. for the business of living 90% of normal life in the modern world. But one thing that has always eluded my grasp has been a good turtleneck or two, for that nebulous style sweet spot that exists between a tweed jacket and tie and outright full casual. That is, until recently.

The reason I had yet to find a good turtleneck wasn't really scarcity. There are in fact plenty to be had out there in thrift shops. The problem was more specific than that. Turtlenecks come in a variety of fabrics and styles, and they aren't all flattering on all men. Finding a type that works hasn't been easy. The most prolific are the cotton jersey knit types, available in every color imaginable. While there is something to be said for the rugged New England look of a soft cotton t-neck under a plaid cahmois or Viyella shirt,especially while shovelling snow or chopping wood,  it's not a look I can pull off. Worn alone under a jacket, I find this type to look too much like underwear.

Then there are the full blast sweater types. Big and thick and at best made of wool, these can look great with jeans, cords or flannels and a Barbour jacket or even casual overcoat, (like so) but they tend to be too thick to wear under a sports jacket. And good luck finding one that isn't thickly ribbed (I hate ribbed sweaters (unreasonable bias: ed.)). 

I find, the best and most useful expression of the turtle neck to be something of a hybrid of the two styles. The one pictured above, recently found at a thrift shop for $ 5.49, illustrates the point perfectly. Knitted of soft lambswool, it's technically a sweater, but a very thin one. It fit's close enough to keep me warm, but doesn't wear hot indoors. One of the problems in wearing a t-neck can be that they tend to make you look half dressed worn alone, so I prefer to wear one when I can leave my jacket on throughout the day. The neck fits close and high, and is ribbed finely to allow for movement. I was lucky enough to find the same one in camel tan at the same shop for the same price. Other good color choices would be hunter green and cream, not white, the kind of colors that go with a good tweed. (makes me wish I had kept this. Sigh)
It's nothing particularly special, only from J. Crew, but it's soft and fits well. In fact, this is the sort of thing I'd even consider picking up new in an end of season sale if I found it. 

I think a sweater like this provides a nice change of pace, and offers a good way to wear tailored clothing without being "overdressed", which can be a good thing for guys like me who hardly ever find themselves in situations that actually require tailored clothing. Oddly enough, I received more compliments, and the inquiries as to "why are you so dressed up?" were higher than they are when I wear a tie. Many people immediately equated it with British-ness. I'll take it.

p.s. photos of Steve McQueen in "Bullitt" noticeably absent. I think we've all seen enough of him for a good, long while, don't you?

20 November 2013

Secrets of Thrifting : Better Isn't Always Best

I recently acquired two shaggy Shetland sweaters, on separate occasions, in the same thrift store, for the same price. This is something of a score, as I find good sweaters are among the hardest things to come by in these places. A good sweater is like an old friend, and I think many people hold on to them until they reach the end of their usefulness, eventually becoming too moth eaten or perhaps accidentally shrunken in the wash. If those two things don't kill a good sweater, then the hangers that most thrift shops display them on will almost certainly throw them out of shape. But now and again, they do turn up.
The navy blue one is the real thing, and iconic J. Press "Shaggy Dog", highly coveted by preppy/trad/ivy/whatever enthusiasts everywhere. I've wanted one for ages, but never owned one, as even on sale the price of these things is prohibitively expensive. Last I checked, $139 was a sale price direct from J. Press, and even on the internet folks are getting upwards of $100 at auction.

The second is something of a knockoff from the defunct (and soon to be collectible?) Ralph Lauren "Rugby" line. Made in China, but just as shaggy, and rendered in a classic shade of burgundy. This one had silly elbow patches on it, but it was nothing that ten minutes with the seam ripper couldn't cure.

Of course, anyone's initial inclination would be to assume that the J.Press is the superior sweater, but it may not necessarily be so in this case. Note that both are size "large", an arbitrary designation at best. The Rugby sweater fits me perfectly, with a hem that falls right at the belt line and just enough room to move without being so bulky as to fit under a tweed jacket. The Press sweater is enormous, with a hen that falls almost two inches longer and so much bulk under the arms as to be tight under my Barbour. I've worn each of them, and I hate to say that I feel frumpy in the Press sweater, and the Rugby has fast become a new favorite.

Thrift stores have a way of leveling the playing field. In truth, the provenance of these two garments clearly means the press sweater is "better". But in some cases, by the time a thing has been purchased, used and donated to charity, it's original provenance becomes less meaningful. A great item will always be a great item, but a lesser item becomes not so bad when it's no longer on display in some awful macro-store, at some inflated price. For the same price in a thrift store, the difference in quality of these two sweaters becomes almost negligible, but at full retail it would be hard to justify choosing the lesser item. I've said it so many times, but it bears repeating to mention that brand allegiance can be a stumbling block in the thrift store, causing you to choose a less than flattering garment because the name is better. I'm not suggesting the you should settle for less, but rather that there's a degree of relativity that needs to be taken into account in a thrift store. It's worth remembering that no matter where you purchase your clothes or how much you spend on them, fit is always the most important consideration.

 In the end, I won't be keeping the J. Press sweater, instead getting to a larger man who will look better in it. I'll keep the Rugby, happy to have given my money to charity to get it. Better isn't always best the second time around.

14 November 2013

Rugged Enough

As you may know, I am a Massachusetts native, born and bred. I love it here, for any number of reasons. Obviously, given that this blog deals mainly with my love (obsession) for traditional menswear and my proclivity to buy it as cheaply as possible, the Bay State has a lot of thrift stores and an inordinately high proliferation of old Brooks Brothers, J. Press and the attendant British goods. Also, I happen to hold the increasingly unpopular opinion that Winter is fun, and we still have it here. Cold may cause some minor discomfort, but we all know that the clothes are so much better this time of year. Of course, the very best reasons to live here, the important ones, have nothing to do with clothes.

The greater Boston is unique in that one can enjoy the full experience of life in the city and all the culture that offers, and still be at the sea or in the woods anytime in less than half an hour. When you need a rugged fix, it's just around the corner. The view above was taken in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, ten minutes by car from my house. Last week, the kids had an extra day off from school, and we spent a perfect New England afternoon there, chilly, but with the sun high and bright.
We hiked up to Wright's Tower, which offers a spectacular view of Boston. The trail is just tough enough for little kids to feel like real woodsmen, and easy enough for Daddy to deal with comfortably. In other parts of the reservation are a collection of ponds to explore.
We packed a picnic lunch, the standard fare for the kids: peanut butter sandwiches, apples, CheezIts, and juice boxes. For Daddy, Jamon Serrano, Piave, Taleggio,  an apple and some (ahem) "grape juice".
I may rail about the rise of the "Urban Lumberjack", but at least I have a somewhat appropriate place for my Bean Boots, Levi's, and Opinel pocket knife. Here we see them all together, "in the wild". (this photo looks like it belongs over at 10engines)
After lunch, we tried some of the more hidden trails. The kids collected leaves, sticks, and rocks...the usual stuff. I'm not much of an outdoors type, but this place is too beautiful. I can come get my camping fix, and still go home to cook a nice meal and sleep in a bed. Perfect. 
And now that the kids are old enough to trust with the camera, I actually get to be in some of the pictures.

Middlesex Fells may not be the deep deep woods, and if you're a real outdoors adventure type you might find it boring. But it does offer a great and welcome escape for a city dweller, even if only for an afternoon. It's just rugged enough.

p.s. new stuff in the Shop, including the first batch of a consignment for none other than Newton Street Vintage. Click the AAWx NSV tab to view the collection.

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.

05 November 2013

Darn It

Thrift shopping often means finding great old stuff only to discover that the reason someone got rid of it is because it's damaged in some way. Combine that with the damage the wool moths can do to your old clothes in your old closet in  an old house, and you frequently wind up dealing with little imperfections like the one pictured above. 

I found this knockout tartan jacket back in March, and it's been waiting patiently in the storage closet since then. I don't remember whether this little hole was there when I bought it, but it doesn't really matter. As I drag it out of the closet and think about how great it will the two, maybe three times, I wear it this Winter, I need to decide how to deal with that pesky little hole. 1/8 inch may not be much, but it's enough.

Lots of times, with holes this small, of it's only one or two, I just live with it. Densely patterned jackets like this one or natty tweeds tend to hide a little hole well enough. If it were elsewhere in the jacket, I might not even care. But this one's right up front.

Of course, the best option here would be reweaving, where an expert would take thread from a hidden spot on the coat to actually reweave the missing part. It's very difficult work, magical even, that can only be performed by an expert specialist. It's also extremely expensive. As great as this coat is, I don;t think I can justify the expense. So, instead, I'll just darn the hole. A trip to the local sewing machine store for a spool f bright red thread, a sharp, thin, needle, and we're set.

A few careful passes with the needle, not pulling the stitches too tight, and the hole is much improved. Not perfect by any stretch, but definitely better and less noticeable from only a few feet back. I often talk here about a lack of money not being a hindrance to having the good stuff, but sometimes you do have to make the best of what you've got.

Besides, in writing this, I realize that it might not be such a bad idea to have my tailor attach a black velvet collar to it, and find and excuse to wear it with a tux, brass buttons and all. Now that would be something.

p.s. my apologies for the sparse posting lately. Technical difficulties should hopefully be remedied tomorrow.