28 December 2013

Past, Present, Future

" The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past."
Robertson Davies, "A Voice in the Attic", 1960

A friend of mine sent me this quote earlier this morning, with the note that it reminded him of the things I often say when talking about life in the second hand business and/or mighty internet. This is exactly how I feel whenever the #menswear blogosphere starts to whining about how Brooks Brothers, manners, style, etc. aren't precisely the same as they were in the past, frequently even before they lived.

Bonus points for the fact that the man is a titan of style. Seriously, do an image search.

27 December 2013

Rules of Thrifting : Cosmetic Surgery

There are a lot of tricks to thrift shopping well, and though I may have a tendency to repeat myself here from time to time, it's simply because these things can't be overstated. One of them is that it is essential to develop an eye for potential, to know what can and can't be repaired or altered, and to see past a bit of additional time and trouble that may be involved to see a final outcome down the road. It's not that different from understanding that a new suit is best worn altered and not straight off the hanger the day you buy it. Following is an extreme case in point.
On a recent trip to the thrift shop, I found an excellent old Chesterfield coat, very heavyweight, the kind of cloth you don't see too often anymore. It was, of course, shoved into a rack brimming with mostly crappy parkas and ugly, dated overcoats from the late 80s and early 90s. Single breasted with peaked lapels, and clearly quite old from a distance, it was of such better quality than the things surrounding it that it was practically glowing. 
Velvet piping at the cuffs and breast pocket, a detail I haven't encountered often. Clearly this is old, and likely worn over morning clothes (striped trousers, cutaway coat, top hat, etc.) by it's original owner. Fits me like a glove, so it looks like I'll be keeping this one, though I will more likely wear it over a grey or navy suit, on a very cold day. True, I do already have an excellent lighter weight Chesterfield, but how could I pass this up? What do you take me for, a sensible normal person?
Produced in a tailor shop in Boston, a long gone place I've never heard of until now. Internet homework turns up nothing about this shop, though it will point you to plenty of great footage of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, also not a bad thing.
Made in 1935 no less. Now we've got something that has value as an antique as well as just a fine piece of clothing. 
$10, as-is. If a thrift shop is marking goods "as-is" look them over carefully. Chances are there's something majorly wrong. This is charity after all, not ebay. "As-is" means different things in different settings. So what's wrong with this coat?

One button has been badly replaced, but I actually found the missing original button in one of the pockets. No, that ain;t it.
The velvet collar is completely destroyed. Not just worn, fully wrecked. Things like this are a deal breaker for most people, which really is too bad. I'll go to a fabric store and get a piece of good velvet, take it to my tailor, and have him replace the whole collar. Purely cosmetic surgery. Even after I pay him, I'll have a stunning garment for less than $50. What new coat can you get for that? Besides, I'll have rescued an antique thing from the garbage dump, and effectively restored it for many years continued use, an act I find rewarding in itself. The way this coat is made, it's likely I'll wear it through it's 100th Winter, and that's kind of priceless.

Look for part two of this post in a couple of weeks when it comes home from the hospital.

p.s. If you're looking for a Chesterfield coat and are a 38 regular, I have another excellent one made by H. Huntsman and Sons of Savile Row.currently listed on ebay. Auction ends Friday 3 January.

24 December 2013

Get Festive

I must apologize for the sparseness of posts here lately. In looking the blog over, I realize that this is only the fifth post this month. While I have been more than busy working to make extra money in order that it may be spent immediately on the children, little time has been left to tend to the internet side of life. My usual December parade of obnoxious tartan outfits has been happening at Facebook this year instead of the blog, and can be seen here, under the heading "Get Festive". I thought it would be good to share the last in that series of thoughts here.
While I do appreciate tartan trousers and bright red socks, I've never had much of a taste for overtly Christmas specific clothing. Singing ties and adults running about in drugstore Santa hats are the kind of thing that makes it hard for me to enjoy this season, which can be hard enough for a veteran retailer like me. Christmas themed ties fall just short of this. But there are of course exceptions, and even a hardened scrooge can be softened up sometimes. The tie above, which I will wear today, is just such an exception. We can infer that it is a holiday tie by it's green ground, but it's theme takes a closer look to figure out. No Santa, no snowmen, no Christmas trees, no candy canes.
Pipers piping; drummers drumming; lords a-leaping; ladies dancing...
maids a-milking; swans a-singing; geese a-laying; golden rings...
calling birds; French hens; turtle doves; and of course, a partridge in a pear tree. This one is juts clever enough to get the better of me, and should be just silly enough against a quiet background of blue shirt, navy blazer and grey flannel trousers.
A well made tie from Ben Silver, worth every penny of the $3.99 that the thrift shop charged me for it. Hapy Holidays everyone, more news to come next week.

p.s. from the shameless self promotion department: AAW gift certificates make a great last minute gift. Order today and have a printable PDF in your email in time for tomorrow.

18 December 2013

Free Stuff: Accessories from Gentleman's Gazette

Firstly, my apologies for the long gaps between posts, and also for returning with a review of free goods. Ye Olde Holiday Tyme doth keep a man of my ilk, that being he of two jobs (both retail) and two wee children, more than awfully busy. But alas, I do digress.

Readers of this blog may well be familiar with the internet presence of Gentleman's Gazette, a men's style blog authored by Sven Raphael Schneider. He has recently parlayed his blog notoriety into an online shop selling fine men's accessories; neckties, pocket squares, et cetera. I was recently asked to review a few of his products, as well as the shopping experience at the web site.
First up is this two tone knitted silk tie. Available in a variety of colors, I chose brown/orange to complement a tweed jacket that has an orange line in the overcheck. The tie is well constructed and soft, with a nice delicate sheen to it. I also dig the contrasting end weave of the front and back blades. 

Let me here admit the difficulty I face in writing an article such as this. As an inveterate thrift shopper and therefore cheapskate, I have amassed over the years a wide selection of excellent ties for little more than $2.99 apiece or so. This tie sells for $85. I am certainly not in the habit of spending anything like that for neck wear, but it helps to remember that as things go, a tie of this quality usually sells for more than this. In that regard, it has merit. Also, it's a really nice tie and I like it.
Next, a linen square with a hand rolled edge and trim stripe in green. The linen is high quality and the construction very good, and I will likely get a lot of use from this piece. Again, not in my usual price range, but at $35, well in line with the current scene. ( or so I'm told. I generally get pocket squares in a bin full of ladies scarves in a thrift shop for a dollar or two)
Lastly, a yellow silk "carnation". Gentleman's Gazette offers a number of these silk lapel flowers in all types. At $30 a pop, this is the one item I'd most likely splurge on. From a step or two back it looks real enough, it's crazy dandy, and it doesn't get killed under an overcoat like a real flower would. I may not be one to wear a lapel flower often, but I suppose that if it were a daily habit, having a few good silk numbers like these would be a huge advantage.

As I said before, these things are expensive and given that this is mostly a blog about High Cheap, reviewing items like these while keeping in the spirit of the blog can be difficult. But it helps to remember that I couldn't thrift shop so well if I didn't know what the good stuff was. This is some of the good stuff, at a fair version of good stuff price. 

As for the shopping experience, the website work pretty seamlessly and the items arrived in less than a week. I give Sven points for running a tight operation and offering a fun selection that is clearly of consistent high quality.

12 December 2013

A Matter of Proportion

So many people complain about the cold weather, but I'm not one. I'd been looking forward to wearing the Polo coat I'd acquired in trade for months. Mid-calf length and dramatic, I like the look of it over a suit as well as thrown on casually with jeans and Shetland sweater.Trouble was, the sleeves were just a whiff to short, maybe half an inch. The coat was fine in its casual setting, but whenever I wore it with tailored clothing, my jacket sleeves would stick out just barely past the coat sleeves. Only a little, but just enough to be wrong. A little shirt cuff beyond a jacket sleeve is one thing, but a coat sleeve should cover all the layers beneath it.

So I took the coat to my man in Cambridge to have the situation remedied. My tailor explained to me that the heavy rolled back cuff was actually a completely separate piece from the rest of the sleeve, and that the way to lengthen them would be to remove the cuffs completely, then re-attach them a half inch lower on the sleeves. 

He explained: "The cuffs, pocket flaps, and belt are all the same width. If I just drop the hem and re-stitch it, everything will be wrong. Most people will sense it, but most of them won't know why. It will take a little longer, but it's the right thing to do." It did take a little longer (and even more than one try), but he charged me the same as a simple sleeve job on a sports jacket. The coat now fits perfectly, proportions solidly in tact.

What's that I'm always saying about finding a good tailor?

06 December 2013

Rules of Thrifting : Size Matters

A good fit is truly the most important factor in dressing well. That's why it can be so important, especially in thrift shops, to ignore numbers and tag sizing most of the time.

Pictured above are three similar cable knit sweaters from Brooks Brothers, 1 "S", 1 "M", and 1 "L". Common sense would have you believe that there is these sweaters would fit three different men of different builds. But you'd be wrong. Despite the complete difference in sizing, these three sweaters are roughly the same size. Each one fits me (42 reg/36 waist) reasonably well, with only the "L" being slightly fuller all around.

S,M,L, or "alpha sizing" as it's known, is at best ambiguous. Numeric sizing is perhaps less so, being based on an actual measurement, but even that can be unreliable given the increased proliferation of "vanity sizing" (you know, but jeans that measure 37 inches with a tape measure but say 34 on the tag). The only real way to get clothes that fit is to try things on. It either fits or it doesn't. In thrift shops, this can be more difficult as dressing rooms can frequently be either gross or non-existent. For the die hard, I recommend taking measurements of a pair of pants and a jacket that fit you well, and bringing a tape measure along on your hunting trips. And don't let vanity get in your way. Why leave behind a stunning British tweed simply because the tag says 44 and you insist you only wear 42?

Size matters...the actual size, not the one written on the tag.

p.s. new stuff in the Shop, including the three sweaters pictured in this post.

03 December 2013

Dress Up/Down

...or, Turtlenecks, part 2

It can be hard enough to wear a jacket and tie these days, without appearing to be needlessly over dressed. Even the most laid back version of such an outfit, rendered in the softest tweeds, corduroy, and flannel, can be to formal for 98% of normal life. Wearing a suit in these circumstances can be damn near impossible. Enter once again the recently acquired turtle neck sweaters ($4.99), this time in tan.

The suit in the photo is a vintage 1960s flannel striped one from Brooks Brothers. Indeed, the very quintessence of business clothing, meant for the kind of business I will likely never conduct. But its heavy and warm and actually quite comfortable. If you closely enough, the stripes are not quite white, and I've found that of I play to that, it is possible to wear this suit in a Sunday semi-formal kind of way. 
On the feet, a pair of recently acquired monk strap shoes in brown suede ($9.99 less 50%= $4.99) continue the laid back feel. Cozy on a cold day, topped with a polo coat, big scarf and tweed cap, I'd almost call the look rakish, if almost anyone other than me were wearing it.

The combination of suit and turtleneck isn't for every situation, but then again a suit itself is lately appropriate for less and less situations everyday. I wore mine to work on a casual Sunday, but it works for a dinner in a good but comfortable restaurant, and can be quite dashing at a Christmas party if you're not a tartan pants kind of guy.