15 November 2014

"I Will Do It The Old Way..."

Artsroun "Art" Apinian, 1952-2014
(photo: Jillian Fennimore)

For as long as I can remember, I've been taking my shoes to Savas Shoe Repair to be revitalized by the expert hands of Artsroun Apinian. Sadly Mr. Arpinian passed away this week. I considered him a friend, and despite this blog being on hiatus just at the moment he deserves some space here.

Mr. Arpinian was an old world cobbler the likes of which rarely exists anymore. A true master of his craft, his work was nothing short of art. His shop was tiny and reeked of shoe polish, and every inch of the place was piled high with shoes and sheets of leather. I never got rid of a pair of shoes without consulting him first. 

He really loved his work, and the better the shoes were to begin with, the more involved he would get. A long winded talker, he loved to explain to you in great detail exactly what made the shoes good, and exactly how he intended to repair them. "These shoes need new heels. I will do it the old way...with nails." And he did, every time. But it was more than that. After talk of the shoes was finished a friendly and often long conversation about just about everything else always ensued. A trip to his shop just to pick up a finished pair could easily last a half an  hour.

The shop is still open, and his son has taken over. It;s heartening to see the place still open, since a good cobbler is a precious commodity these days. I haven't brought anything for repair yet, but if he learned from his father then that's a point in his favor.

Rest well, Mr. Arpinian. My shoes and I will  miss you.

07 November 2014

Until Further Notice....

By now you've noticed that posting around here has ground nearly to a halt. Some of you have even been kind enough to email and make sure all was well on my end. It is, thanks. Allow me to give a brief explanation of what to expect from the AAW you know and love in the near future.

I've been writing this blog for just over six years now, since September of 2008, and it's been great fun for the most part.When I started, I felt that the then burgeoning #menswear blogosphere phenomenon needed a cheapskate's voice, and I voluntarily stepped into to fill that role, having honed my cheapskate skills over a lifetime. What I didn't know then was how much I enjoyed sharing my thoughts in writing. I turns out I do, a lot. I spent many years previous performing in bands and had to give that up when my children came along. I guess I didn't know how much I enjoyed having an audience either.

Writing this blog has brought many surprises into my life. I launched a business based on my yammerings here. Every now and then, somebody sent me some expensive thing for free, which was also nice. But best of all, I've met more than a few people who will be lifelong friends through this shallow little pursuit. Who knew?

In any case, after six years I find myself running out of things to say here. Add to that the fact the since August ehow.com has actually been paying me (imagine it) once a week to write for them. All this has been making it increasingly difficult to regularly deliver what you've come to expect here, and so rather than churn out pointless posts just to keep the page fresh, I think it's high time to take a rest and collect my thoughts. I'll still be active over at tumblr if you really need a Giuseppe Timore fix. 

I enjoy blogging and hope to get back into soon, with a new approach and some fresh ideas. Until then, please stand by.

p.s. an excellent new employment opportunity looms on the horizon, and as such I will sadly have to shutter the AAW brick and mortar "secret store" in the coming weeks, moving business back to online only. As such, everything in the store, both physical and online, is 25% off until further notice, Use discount code THANKYOU25 at checkout.

24 October 2014

Darts or No Darts (addendum)

3/2 undarted front, three button cuffs
2 button darted front, three button cuffs
Two button undarted front, two button cuffs

In photographing some new items for my online shop, I came across these three navy blazers. All three are Brooks Brothers, and all three have natural shoulders. The button stance on each is different, and one has darts while the other two do not. No one of them is any more "classic" or "correct" than the others, and each would be perfectly at home with the usual suspects: button down oxfords, khakis, penny loafers, striped ties, charcoal flannels. The "right" one would be the one that looked best and most flattering on the wearer. Let these serve as a perfectly timed real life illustration of the points made in my last post.

p.s. lots of new items arriving in the Shop over the next few days. Keep an eye.

17 October 2014

Reader Questions : Darts or No Darts?

(from "Clothes and the Man", by Alan Flusser)

Reader Ryan writes:

Curious, do you have an opinion about darted vs. non-darted jackets?  And for that matter,..how about sack suits vs. updated American cut suits?

Simple as this question may seem it's actually quite a good one because it cuts right to the meat of the detail obsessed world of #menswear, and let's us talk about which details really matter, and why.

As anyone who reads this blog can easily guess, my own sense of style leans heavily toward East Coast American traditional clothing. However, I also have a deep appreciation for British tailoring. As a result, I tend to shoot for what I call an "Anglo-American" approach to dressing, combining elements of each school of thought. I appreciate Italian tailoring as well, but despite being Italian myself, tend to shy away from it, as it doesn't really suit my figure or lifestyle.

For those who may not know, a dart is a small partial seam that runs up the front panels of a jacket from the pocket to the chest, giving the coat a bit of shaping in the sides. A "sack jacket" doesn't have darts, and therefore has a boxier shape, For generations this one of the distinguishing features of American dress, the other being a "natural shoulder" with minimal padding. In my own wardrobe, there are examples of both. I'm pretty ambivalent about whether a jacket has darts, instead considering the overall shape and cut of the garment. Personally, I look for a natural shoulder, with soft suppression at the waist, and an easy but correct fit. Whether this was achieved with darts or with shaping at the side seams doesn't much matter to me. I feel the same way about pleats vs. flat front pants. I want my trousers to fit comfortably without being baggy. These days I tend to prefer forward pleats, despite the fact that are considered "incorrect" in an East Coast traditional wardrobe, again because they suit my figure and lifestyle better. The fact that they are a little different, irreverent even, is only a plus.

The clothes you wear should make you look good. The best way to achieve this is to choose cuts and styles that compliment you. These days it's easy to read the internet and fill your head with a long list of so-called inviolable rules, but following those rules by rote to the letter won't necessarily help you dress well. Know what they are, why they exist, and then adapt them to yourself, using what a friend once called a "broad stroke traditionalism". It can make the difference between looking like you're going as "Take Ivy" for Halloween and being stylish and well dressed.

04 October 2014

Follow Up: The Knot Standard Jacket

I am more than a bit overdue with this post, but here is the follow up of the revisions to my jacket from Knot Standard. To review, Knot Standard is yet another of the growing number of companies offering "online custom". Having had less than good experiences in this realm before, I decided to give them a chance and took them up on their offer of a free jacket back in July

I was impressed with the company then. The communication was great, the website easily navigated, and the jacket was of quality cloth and construction and arrived fairly quickly. The trouble was that the shoulders were cut too narrow and the length of the coat was a little long. After a very cordial correspondence with them on the matter, they remade my jacket and the new one arrived about a month later.

I must say I am more than impressed. The new jacket has been adjusted perfectly, and I look forward to wearing it next Summer. Besides getting a quality garment at was is effectively a reasonable price ($395) the level of service was something that you don't see much anymore. That's worth as much as the jacket to me.

I may  not have paid for it, but I'd have to say that Knot Standard is worth every penny. Their prices rival that of many ready to wear brands of lesser quality, and the service is great. If you're not one to scour the dirty thrift shops like me, but you're less than  satisfied with what your money gets you at retail these days, give them a try.

29 September 2014

Cutting The Losses (An Appeal)

Back in July, I managed to "score" the suit in the above photo from ebay. It's a custom made suit by Alan Flusser, circa mid-90s. I wrote about it shortly after receiving it, using it to illustrate my "Law of Averages" theory as it applies to thrift shopping. It's made of a heavy nailhead cloth, and it's been hanging at the back of the closet in the "on deck circle", awaiting it's trip to the tailor. Every time I take it out to bring it to be fitted, it winds up getting bumped for other pending alterations. The longer I wait, the more I contemplate whether it might not be time to cut my losses on this one.

A three piece double breasted suit, seldom seen since the 1930s, is certainly not an easy garment to come by. Simply having one is something of a second hand/cheapskate gold medal. But when will I wear it? Lord knows I don't really need it. Hell, I don't really need any of this stuff. And the cost of alterations? OK, that's it, my mind is made up....
And then Tin Tin (remember him?) posts this photo, from a mid-90s era Esquire article written by none other than Alan Flusser himself. And I see such a suit in action, and I know now that I must have it...but wait a minute, no, I don't. Perhaps you see my dilemma. Or perhaps you are a more well adjusted, level headed person who is only reading this bog and others like it to marvel at the amount of time and thought that some fellows put into something so ultimately superficial and inconsequential. In any case, I appeal to you for help.

On September 19, 2008, the fellow formerly known as "Longwing" (remember him?) commented in response to this blog's very first post:

"Thrifters have too much shit. You get used to not getting exactly what you want so you tend to buy everything that even comes close."

I refuted him then, even though I couldn't help but admit that he indeed had a very valid point. It's a mild form of hoarding sickness that I have fought hard to keep in check all my life. I feel that I do fairly well, and no doubt operating a second hand clothing business does give me a convenient outlet for unwanted or no longer needed garments. But I ask you, is this not just the sort of situation old Longwing was talking about? Do I bite the bullet and pour more cash into making this suit fit? Or do I recoup my investment and get this thing into the hands of someone an inch or so taller than me? After all, I have a pair of cream colored flannel trousers already at the tailor's awaiting pick up, and a pair of cavalry twills to be dropped off, to say nothing of the dry cleaning.

Torture and anguish, thy name is a less than perfect ebay score. Thoughts and opinions greatly appreciated.

27 September 2014

Dress for The Season...and the Weather

So it's almost October, and I'm itchy to get into my tweeds and corduroys. But as I write this, it's nearing 80 degrees in Boston. The tweeds will have to wait, but the madras and linen would be way out of place.

I recently picked up the jacket above, a recent Brooks Brothers piece. It's made of a blend of wool, linen  and silk, and I find it's handy thing to have on a day like this. The color and pattern aren't too summery, but the jacket still wears cool on a warm day.  When I packed the Summer clothes up, I left this one in rotation, along with a lightweight navy blazer in wool hopsack, and a couple of lighter weight worsted suits in dark colors. It's helpful to have clothes that bridge the gap. In the photo above, I combined the jacket with a wool knit tie, perhaps a bit unconventional, but a nod to the season, despite the warm weather. Below, a pair of charcoal worsted trousers, rather than the lightweight tan cotton I might usually put with this jacket, keep things more Fall as well.

I don't want to walk around sweating bullets in a tweed jacket and flannel slacks pretending I'm not uncomfortable any more than I want to be wearing shorts right now. Nothing is less stylish than being uncomfortable in your clothes, no matter how nice they may be. Dress for the season, but dress for the weather too.

25 September 2014

Buona Fortuna, Signor Sessa

I've lived in the same house practically all my life. Save for a brief period of "freedom" in my twenties, I live in the house my parents brought me to as a newborn baby. My mother has lived in this house for fifty years, and my children are the fourth generation of my family to be here. A short walk from the house is Sessa's Cold Cuts and Italian Specialties. Mr. Sessa has run this neighborhood Italian deli for 35 years, effectively all my life. He just sold the place to enjoy his well earned retirement.

Giancarlo (Johnny) Sessa is something of a third grandfather to me. He jokes about how despite the fact that many of his customers are much older than me, I am his oldest customer. On the weekend he opened his shop in 1979, my Nonna took me there. I was a little older than two and my brother had yet to be born. I still shop there. Notoriously surly in the true Italian (my Nonna would further specify "Napolitana") way, he always greeted me with a kindly "Come stai, Giuseppe?". We've been friends all my life.
Sessa's shop was one of my first experiences of the kind of "real thing" the internet generation can mostly only imagine. The freshest Italian cold cuts outside Italy, sliced to paper thin perfection; dried fishes and bundles of garlic hanging from the ceiling; buckets full of olives by the front door (oil cured black olives a personal favorite). At Easter, pizza chiena (pronounced in Boston "pizza gain-a") satcked high on the counter; at Christmas, pannetone of every size...for days. Vacuum sealed bricks of all the rare types of Lavazza; homemade dry cured sausages from some old lady in Malden, totally illegal; Kinder Eggs, also illegal; and always friendly Italian banter.

As a child, I remember being there every weekend, the smells, and the sounds of spoken Italian. Back then, the neighborhood was mostly Italian, and the immigrant generation, "old country" folks like my grandparents, were everywhere. In those days, nobody spoke English in Sessa's shop. It was a lively place. We would go there to buy cold cuts on Saturday. With every order, I would be given a fresh slice to taste. I would leave having eaten a sandwich worth of meat, only to go home and make a sandwich.
For the last few years, Mr. Sessa had talked about retirement. He had children, but none interested in taking the place on after him. That's him sweeping the floor, his daughter behind the counter. I recently heard he had found a buyer for the place. Today, I dropped by to thank him. He said "for what?". 

I told him that despite the fact that I am a second generation American, I have always considered myself to be "Italian". Obviously, growing up with my grandparents in a largely immigrant neighborhood had a lot to do with that. I didn't realize until I heard he was leaving that he and his store had a lot to do with it too. I didn't know how much his store and the culture it represents meant to me until I heard he was moving on.

The staff there wears aprons in large green, white, and red stripes of the Italian flag. Some twenty years ago, he gave one to my father, and I promptly stole it when my own interest in cooking began to bud. I told him how only last week I finally had to part with it. It was too stained and torn too keep anymore. I said that if I knew he was leaving I would have kept it. He went back to the kitchen and came out with a new one, saying "Don't say I never gave you nothing". I couldn't be happier. I can't wait to stain this one with olive oil and tomato sauce.

The fellow who bought the place is an Italian, too. He plans to make some changes, including the name, but keep the old Italian deli going strong in the neighborhood. I'm sure it will be nice, especially for those of us who would rather not buy our proscuitto at the supermarket, but it won't be Sessa's.

Buona fortuna, Signor Sessa. Enjoy the rest, you've earned it.

18 September 2014

Get Ready

I heard that the Farmer's Almanac has predicted an unusually cold winter this year. Not that I neccesarily put much stock in the Farmer's Almanac, butI say bring it on. I've been preparing, and I'm ready. Are you?

Currently in the closet are some old friends and some recent off season acquisitions. Left to right: Vintage Southwick heavy wool twill in hunter green; vintage wool tartan jacket (great for Bobby Burns parties); Paul Stuart brown glen check with gold and burgundy overcheck; old custom cashmere large scale glen check with blue overcheck; Andover Shop Russell plaid heavy tweed; Brooks Brothers gun club check with open patch pockets; Andover Shop moss green tweed with orange, red, blue, and lavender check; Andover Shop brown tweed with burgundy overcheck; Norman Hilton brown color fleck herringbone; three piece cavalry twill suit. All acquired through thrift shops, ebay, or trade. 

Not bad for a broke cheapskate. Persistence pays off.

p.s. Looks like we have temps pushing 80 on the way this weekend. Good thing I kept the khakis and hopsack blazer in rotation.

08 September 2014

Sunday Best

Recently good friend James of 10 Engines gave me this suit, straight out of his own closet, to do with what I could. It's the very definition of a stalwart classic, a charcoal grey single breasted suit in a three season worsted wool. It's been said that a man's suit is like armor, and this one bears that point out.
At first glance, it's a trad/ivy/preppy thrift shop/ebay score dream: a vintage 3/2 sack suit from the Brooks Brothers University Shop, likely late 1950s vintage. It's the kind of thing the trad/ivy fanatics dream of at night. But I won't be selling it. It's well worn, and in it's wear and tear lies a story and a soul.
The tips of the cuffs are worn through, and a few of the buttons are broken...
The trouser hems are frayed beyond repair, but check that old style big cuff on a narrow leg opening...
The edges of the trouser pockets have been beaten so hard in sixty or more years of active service that someone saw fit to have them reinforced with a grosgrain strip...
And a crotch worn straight through was at some time seen merely as a call for some old time thrifty repair rather than a ticket to the trash pile.

While this suits condition may render it useless to almost anyone, it has value in it's own way. Indeed, it's value lies in the very defects and repairs that make it an unsalable vintage piece. This suit speaks to a reality in the past that vintage fetishism tends to ignore, and it hints at a story that's worth bearing in mind, especially if you spend any amount of time hunting for and reusing old things.

In the strange world that is the online #menswear community, we tend to think of the Brooks Brothers of bygone days as something of a holy cathedral. It is viewed, along with a small handful of other old purveyors, as something of the supplier or royal armor to the knights of the #ocbd. And indeed, in most ways, it was. But there is another side to that story, and this suit is a strong piece of evidence.

What follows is all pure conjecture on my part, but I beg you hear me out. I think that the man who owned this suit didn't have a lot of good clothes, or a lot of money, but he did have values. He probably scrimped and saved in the late fifties to buy this suit, knowing that quality was worth the time and effort it took to earn it. He likely purchased this simple charcoal grey suit on virtue of it's versatility, usefulness, and probable longevity. It was probably his Sunday Best, and he probably wore it to every important occasion of his life for decades. He might have been eighteen when he bought it; he danced in it with his sweetheart at the Spring semi-formal; he wore it to his high school graduation; every holiday, every Sunday at church. He put it on for his grandmother's birthday that time they surprised her with a trip to the city for dinner in a fancy restaurant; he put it on to pick his wife up from the hospital after his son was born; he wore it to both of his parents funerals.

He wasn't a business man, definitely not a man who wore a suit all the time. Had he been that type, we wouldn't see either the wear or repair that we see on this suit. He appreciated the value in it since it's original purchase, and had it repaired as best he could every time it was needed by a little town tailor who was resourceful in his work. Despite the suit becoming increasingly ragged, he kept it clean and pressed, and every time he had occasion to wear it, that same sweetheart he danced with in the Spring semi-formal told him how handsome he looked in it.

Maybe that's all a bit maudlin, but I hope you see my point. In the romantic past, when everyone wore suits, even poor guys had to have some Sunday Best. In a very strong sense, I'd bet the guy who owned this suit valued it far more than any guy with a lot of suits values his clothes. It was his armor, his good clothes, and though it may have been a bit ragged, it wasn't any less of a grey Brooks Brother suit. Old clothes sourced from a thrift store are great for being well made quality things had for a fraction of their worth. But they also have a story and a soul. For some that's a turn-off, but for an inveterate cheapskate like myself, it's where the beauty in this lies.

06 September 2014

Size Matters

As the author of this blog and a seller of second hand menswear, I am frequently asked questions regarding the measurement and sizing of old garments. In the age of the internet, more clothing than ever is bought and sold sight unseen via places like ebay and online shops like my own. In the interest of a "Reader Questions" style post, here's a guide and explanation of how sizing works and how to use measurements to successfully shop for old clothes.

Most modern clothes are sized on a tag. These measurements can be anything as vague as "alpha sizing" (S,M,L,XL) or as specific as tailored sizing (42 Reg., for example). While helpful, these sizes are best used as a guide rather than a rigid fact. In truth, there is fluidity in such sizes, and different manufacturers or brands often use the same numbers on clothes which are not physically the same size. Add to that the fact that many older and vintage clothes are either missing these tags or were never sized that way in the first place, and things can get pretty confusing. While it's helpful to know about what "size" you are, it is infinitely more helpful to know your measurements, or even just the measurements of an article of clothing that fits well. The numbers on a measuring tape are marked out in inches (or centimeters if you live anywhere but here), and there is no arguing with them.

Most suit jackets and sport coats are sized by chest measurement and length. For example, I generally wear a 42 Regular. The number (42) refers to the circumference of the chest, in this case 42 inches, while "Regular" refers to the length of the jacket measured down the back. Generally speaking, there are five measurements to know on a tailored jacket. The chest can measured by laying a jacket flat and measuring from armpit to armpit, or "pit to pit" as you'll often read in online listing, then doubling. Bear in mind that is a differential to be considered, and few extra inches need to be left for freedom of movement. The jackets I have that I consider 42 chest measure between 22 and 23 inches across, or between 44-45 inches around. Shoulders are measured across the back from point to point. This can vary between makers and styles, but it can't be altered, so know what fits.A little variance is ok here. For example, I can wear anything from 18-19 inches in the shoulder. Length is usually listed as Short, Regular, and Long. While there is no hard rule about these lengths, I generally consider a "regular" to be about 31 inches from the bottom of the collar to the hem of the coat, short to be about 30, and long to be about 32. Again, the terms are subjective, but the numbers are not. Sleeve length is measured from shoulder to cuff, and sometimes a waist measurement will be given by measuring across the closed buttoning  point. These can be helpful, but remember too that sleeve length and side seams are easily altered. A good seller will list how much cloth there is to accommodate these alterations, or at least be able to tell you should you ask.

Trousers are easier, with the most important measurement of course being at the waist. This is measured much the same way as the chest of a jacket, across the waistband, doubled, with room to move. For example, what I would consider a 36 waist would actually measure about 37 inches. Length is measured from the crotch to the hem down the seam. This is easily alterable in most cases and a good seller will tell how much extra cloth there is to make adjustments. If you're looking for trim or fuller cut trousers, it's helpful to know the leg opening and thigh measurement. A leg opening between 9 and 10 inches is fairly classic, with 8 inches being trim. 13-14 inches at the thigh is classic, less would be considered trim cut. If you like a trimmer look, trousers can often be tapered in a bit, but you'll need a good tailor, not just the local dry cleaner. Remember that honesty with oneself is important. You may like to say you wear a 34 waist when you really need 36. Vanity is a funny thing. It should motivate you to wear clothes that look good rather than squeeze into uncomfortable clothing that's too tight.

These things are not only helpful in the world of online shopping, but also in the physical realm. Take a measuring tape with you to the thrift store and ignore tagged sizing. If you see something you like, measure it and see how close it comes to the measurements taken from a well fitting garment you already have. With experience, you'll begin to see the relativity in tagged sizing. I personally own and wear trousers sized from 34 to 38 inches, and jackets ranging from 40 to 44 in tagged sizes, and yet they all fit. Know measurements, not your "sizes".

p.s. A Note on Blog Posts

You may have noticed that posting here has become less frequent, lately only happening once a week, usually on Saturday. As some of you may know, I have taken a writing job with the style blog at ehow.com. This job, paired with the running of both my online and brick and mortar shop, has made it difficult to keep posting here as frequently as I would like. Going forward, I will be working out a more regular posting schedule for the blog, likely twice a week. Until then keep checking in and bear with me. I truly appreciate your readership and will continue to offer the kind of content you've come to expect. Thank you.

30 August 2014

#Menswear 1970

Lately I've been catching up on all the old movies I'm supposed to have seen but actually haven't. Last night  it was Five Easy Pieces. An excellent movie to be sure, but since this is a clothing blog, I'm going to focus on vintage 1970 menswear style via Jack Nicholson's character Bobby Dupea. Amazingly, he manages to wear an excellent and stylish example of nearly every #menswear trend popular today. Times may change, but #menswear, or what was then called menswear, doesn't.
We have the Well Curated Authentic Heritage Americana #workwear thing nailed down tight. Red Wing boots, selvage denim, American made heavy flannel shirts, it's all there. The only difference between 1970 and today is that this character works on a oil rig in California, as opposed to a tech office in a converted Bushwick warehouse loft with a Foosball table and a place to take a nap during business hours.
We have the #ivy #preppy thing to the hilt when he puts on a tweed suit with a natural shoulder, 3/2 roll, two button cuff, and flat front pants. His #ocbd has an epic collar roll and pairs perfectly with a knit tie. The only difference between 1970 and today is this character comes from old money, and as such learned how to dress this way from a source other than the internet.
An excellent dose of New England casual is served up in the form of a turtleneck and brown corduroy jacket, again with natural shoulder, 3/2 roll, and two button cuff, worn with selvage denim. The only difference between 1970 and today is that his jeans appear to be washed when they get dirty.
And bonus points for the maroon satin jacket with knit collar and cuffs, worn in the iconic "Chicken salad sandwich hold the chicken" scene. The only difference between 1970 and today is nobody called this jacket #streetwear.
We even get a whiff of pretensious #menswear style in the form of Bobby's brother Carl. The only difference between 1970 and today is that apparently being an ascot wearing snoot got you a broken neck, rather than fame and accolades as a leading #igent.

Also, back then people only used words that were in the dictionary, and the "hashtag" was known as a "number sign".

23 August 2014

The Virtues of Perseverance

Back in the 90s, my Dad had a subscription to GQ. This was in the end days of GQ being a publication for professional men interested in adult topics, rather than a pop rag full of twenty somethings in clothes that don't fit. I read it back then, and even though I may hate to admit being influenced by a magazine, I was. All those now famous Polo ads from the heyday were there, and the clothing photo spreads featured some pretty great stuff. Sure, the models were young, athletic, and handsome, but the clothes fit properly and it was obvious that the demographic was grown ups.

I'd see an outfit like the one pictured above. The model would probably be photographed descending a flight on stone steps on the front of an old official looking building, briefcase in one hand while checking his watch or hailing a cab. Or maybe he'd be in the park buying a hot dog from a street vendor while an attractive young lady in a business suit admired him from behind a newspaper. The caption would read something like this:

Dashing and simple, you can't go wrong with a good grey suit and blue striped shirt. Suit by Polo Ralph Lauren, $1295; shirt by Brooks Brothers, $149; tie by Robert Talbott, $125; belt by Coach; shoes by W.S.Foster and Sons.

I lusted after those things then, and I did my best in my teenage way to fake it with bargains and thrift shop purchases. In retrospect I missed the mark by a mile, but I was a kid and still just learning. I stuck with it, kept what was good and discarded the rest, in terms of both clothing and knowledge.  All these years later, I finally have the Polo suit, the Brooks Brothers shirt, and the Robert Talbott tie, albeit for a lot less money. I sometimes buy hot dogs from a street vendor, though I'm not sure how many attractive young ladies in business suits are admiring from behind a newspaper.

Perseverance is a virtue.

21 August 2014

The Jams

In Boston, we are fortunate enough to have excellent jazz programming on the radio every day from 5:00 am until 1:00 pm, thanks to Harvard's radio station WHRB. It may be hopelessly old fashioned, but that's still how I find out about a lot of the music I eventually come to love. I hear new things on the radio, write down the names and seek them out. Add to that my late-to-the-party discovery of discogs.com and we have a potentially dangerous situation. Most recently I discovered the album "Puttin' It Together" by the Elvin Jones trio, currently on it's way to the house. "Sweet Little Maia" is from that album. Besides being a mega-jam, this performance serves a triumvirate of style lessons, hence making it loosely appropriate for a clothing blog.

Elvin Jones, the groups leader and drummer, keeps things simple and classy in a plain tuxedo, not unlike what he often wore during his six year stint with the massively influential John Coltrane Quartet. The tie tucked under the shirt collar may be a dated, and the barrel cuffs on what appear to be a normal white shirt rather than a pleated formal one remind of that old style casual black tie that we lost sight of in the last forty years. Despite how you might feel about these inconsequential transgressions, playing the drums as well as Elvin does kind of gives you a pass.

Jimmy Garrison, also late of the John Coltrane Quartet, shows us that maybe, just maybe, there are situations in which a Nehru jacket and turtleneck can be not only acceptable, but downright cool. Those situations include being Jimmy Garrison and performing jaw dropping bass solos in 1968. Don' try it at home.

Joe Farrell presents a style anomaly. His look is very high school chemistry teacher, and I can almost feel the thickness of his polyester through the screen. But he proves that just because you're a badly dressed white guy playing a soprano sax doesn't necessarily mean you're painfully lame. This of course flies in the face of Kenny G.'s entire musical career.

Can't wait for this record to arrive. Once it does, I can almost guarantee that it will be in regular rotation on the turntable at the AAW Shop. Drop by some Saturday if you want to give it a listen.

16 August 2014

New Old Boston : A Visit to Bully Boy Distillers

Bottles of Bully Boy "Boston Rum" being packaged at the distillery

Remarkably, for all the years I have spent in the business of selling booze, I had never been to a brewery, winery, or distillery. Just the other day I decided to change that with a visit to Boston's own Bully Boy Distillers. Hidden away in a nondescript aluminum garage, across the street from the back side of an elementary school no less, I may never have even found the place if it weren't for the  fact that the weather was warm and one of the doors was partially open, and I could see a stack of oak liquor barrels inside.

I've been familiar with Bully Boy spirits these last few years they've been on the market, selling them in the store. Initially only white spirits were available, as the "brown goods" as we call them take some time to age. I knew they were small and local and the liquor was good, so I was happy to recommend them. A few years later when a dark "Boston Rum" and an aged "American Straight Whiskey" hit the scene, I was hooked, being more of a brown goods guy myself. 
To call them "small batch" almost doesn't describe it. This place is tiny. A two door garage, divided into two rooms. On the right, a tasting bar, office, bottling and packaging line, and the still itself fill one room. 
In the other room, barrels of whiskey and rum line both walls, stacked to the ceiling. Large plastic fermenting tanks take up the center of the room, along with tanks of molasses and pallets of grain. In the foreground of this shot, a tank of molasses undergoes initial fermentation on its way to becoming rum, while another tank holds a fermenting "mash" of 45% corn, 45% rye, and 10% wheat that will become whiskey. It's a tight squeeze, but brothers Will and Dave Willis obviously run a clean, tight ship.
It all gets distilled in tiny batches on a German made copper still. Running the still for an entire day, Will tells me, yields only a few gallons of raw liquor. That's something to think about when considering the price of a good bottle.

Bully Boy's story is a good one, and as I speak with co-owner Will Willis his passion not only for craft distilling, but also for history, and the city of Boston, is clear. Will tell's me that Bully Boy started with an interest to bring back Boston's long lost but storied distilling tradition. He and his brother Dave grew up on a farm in Massachusetts, where they discovered an old family vault containing a rare collection of old liquor bottles, all locked up there apparently as a secret stash during prohibition. The name "Bully Boy" was the name of a favorite horse of his Grandfather's, and references not only Teddy Roosevelt, but also the old Bully Boys of Boston, the hard working folks who did the dirty work for Boston blue blood "Brahmin" society. The brothers take their cues form these old bottles, and offer a set of spirits that have a fun nod to history and an inherent "Boston"-ness about them, while still remaining unique and somewhat modern. All of this is offered at a very fair price at retail, no easy feat.
Old bottles found in vault at the farm. "Cow Whiskey"?!? Bully Boy used these as inspiration for the design of their own labels.

The white spirits all retail for roughly $30 per bottle, and are clean, direct expressions of their ingredients and the brothers attention to quality. The vodka is clean and bright, despite having been distilled only once rather than the multiple times common these days, proof you can get it right on the first try. The white rum has a glycerin texture and just the right sweetness without being heavy, great with tonic and lime. The white whiskey is perhaps similar to the vodka, but has more of a biscuit bread note to it. I've actually had it in a margarita in place of tequila and it was quite good.

The brown spirits are a whiff more expensive, but still quite reasonable at around $35. Their American Whiskey qualifies as neither Bourbon nor Rye, being only 45% corn and 45% rye, shy of the 51% of either of those needed to bear the names. As such, it bears some of the better attributes of both: the sweetness of bourbon tempered with the spicy qualities of rye. It's got plenty of flavor, and a good bit of chew, yet it's light on it's feet and mellow at 84 proof. Great as a sipper, I also like it mixed with lemon juice and club soda, garnished with peach slices.  "Boston Rum", the same initial distillate as the white rum, finishes it's aging in the charred whiskey barrels once the whiskey leaves them. It's dark amber in color, rich and chewy, and being made from molasses really hearkens back perhaps more than any of their other products to Boston's old liquor history. We are a port town, after all, and sailors love rum. Sip this one in a snifter or try it on the rocks with muddled lime and sugar.

You won't find Bully Boy far from Boston, at least not yet. If you're a local and you haven't tried it, get out there and do it. Any good bar in town stocks it by now. If you're visiting Boston, do yourself a favor and take some home. It makes a way better souvenir than a Red Sox t-shirt made in china that you can get anywhere. Bully Boy distillers is a real taste of the New Old Boston.

15 August 2014


Amanda Kersey of WGBH, Boston public radio/tv/news source, kindly visited the AAW Shop a couple of weeks ago. A few days later, she tagged along on a "hunting trip" with me, where I did a lot of pontificating from the drivers seat. The result is this nice piece at the WGBH website. Thanks, Amanda. It was fun working with you.

13 August 2014

Free Stuff: Knot Standard, part 1

The world of so-called "online custom" has exploded in recent years, and as a lover of fine clothes who is also a consummate cheapskate, I want to believe that while this is in no way the same as real bespoke, that someone will hit it well enough that it could at least be a viable option for well crafted clothes made of good fabric at a price that is at least imaginable for many men. A few months back I was contacted by Knot Standard about doing a review of one of their jackets, and decided to give them a a go. Despite my less than glowing experience in the past, I really want to believe that this can work if you know how to pull it off right.

Knot Standard's ordering process is like many others in that it asks you to input a very specific set of measurements in order to cut a "pattern" from which to make your garment. If I've learned anything from bad experiences it's this: you can't measure yourself properly, and neither can your significant other. This time out, I wrote down all the measurements they asked for and had my tailor take them for me. This not only ensures a more accurate and impartial set of numbers, but in a way gets closer to actual custom, in that a professional took my measurements, even if he wasn't the same person who made the final garment.

Within five weeks or so of placing the order, my jacket arrived. I chose a cobalt blue 100% linen fabric in a slubby herringbone weave by Holland and Sherry. Upon opening the box, I was immediately impressed. The cloth was high quality, the construction was excellent, and all my specific detail requests were met exactly, in this case: 3/2 darted front, natural shoulders, side vents, three open patch pockets, two button surgeon cuffs, and a partial lining. See below:
 Note the correct "old style" button placement, with a high top button in line with the breast pocket.
 Blue and white gingham bemberg lining is a plus, as well as properly taped exposed edges.
A two button surgeon cuff is more than a bit unusual, but they did it, and did it well at that, no questions asked. Check that slub.

As for fit the jacket was very close. But the only troubling thing was the fact that the shoulders were a whiff too tight. Not much, but enough to be a thing that would prevent me from wearing this jacket much.So I contacted my man at the place and told him. At first, he asked that I consult a tailor and offered up to $75 to cover alterations. I replied that the shoulders were just too tight, but added that as this was a gratis garment I didn't want to be greedy and demand a remake. My man than replied that this was nonsense, and of course they would remake my jacket to fit. His only regret was that it will take an additional 4-6 weeksto complete the task, and that by the time I receive that second jacket, Summer will be over and it will be too late to wear it.

Ah well, there's always next year.
The price of this jacket would have been $395. That's no small change for a cheapskate. However, this jacket is extremely well constructed of excellent fabric and was delivered in relatively short order. That jacket you might get in the store at Joe Banks or Mens Wearhouse for that same price? This is miles better. And while I did have fit issues, customer service and communication have been great with these guys. So far, so good. Can't wait to see how the replacement works out.