29 April 2014

One For The Good Guys, part 2

I'm sure many of you remember the article I wrote a while back about the new mayor of Lawrence, MA, and his dress code for city hall employees requiring them to dress like grown-ups. At the time, I called for anyone willing to show their support for Mr. Mayor to send me a tie which I would present on our collective behalf. What followed led me down an unexpected path, with a pleasant surprise as its conclusion.

In the week following the original piece, I collected nearly 50 ties from among my readers, a gift for which I thank each of you who contributed. Then I got an email from Paul Fredrick, an online clothing retailer out of Pennsylvania, saying they thought this was a great cause and wanted to be involved. I wasn't quite sure what that might mean, but agreed to be in touch with them after contacting the mayor's office.

The next day, I spoke with the kind assistant to Mayor Rivera. She informed me that the mayor appreciated our offer, but that there was a place where this gift might fill a bigger need. She directed me to the Notre Dame Cristo Rey high school in Lawrence. It's a Catholic school that focuses on lower income kids, getting them office jobs as part of a work/study program that helps defray the cost of tuition. Not only do these kids where ties to school, but also to work. Already they're doing better than grown people with government office jobs. Being from  lower income families, the mayor's office felt these kids needed the help more, and I agreed completely.

I informed the representative from Paul Fredrick of this, not sure whether they would still get involved. They did, sending me 350 ties (!!!) as a donation to the school. I was flabbergasted, but my reaction was nothing compared to that of the dean at the school. I dropped the ties off yesterday, in a box so heavy I could barely lift it alone. They are destined to be given to the incoming freshman class.

When those kids grow up and take jobs in places like Lawrence City Hall, or anywhere else for that matter, I doubt we'll have to "force" them to dress, or behave, appropriately. Chalk one up for the good guys.

My sincerest thanks to Mayor Rivera's office, Paul Fredrick, and each of you who donated ties. Generosity and charity never go out of style.

26 April 2014

An Affordable Cocktail

I can remember when the "vodka boom" happened in the liquor industry. Being in the business myself and having a preference mostly for brown spirits, I found there to be something disingenuous about convincing people to pay premium prices for an un-aged product made from any ingredients. It was a marketing fiasco, with all attention being paid to packaging rather than the liquid inside the bottle. Kind of like brand name logos on the outside of clothes.

Thankfully, that bubble burst, and an interest in whiskey took its place. I will admit to being a little put off by the hipster popularity of rye and Bourbon, but with that popularity came a slew of great new options at all price points. In the affordable category, Medley Brothers is a new favorite.

Medley Brothers was a product sold originally in the 1940s and 50s, recently relaunched by Charles Medley Distillers. It's the kid brother to Old Medley 12 Year Old. Younger barrels are selected and blended, then bottled at an old style 102 proof. Medley Brothers wear its strength well. It's a rich, chewy bourbon, with plenty of tobacco bitter cocoa flavor to temper its inherent sweetness. You can sip on it straight, but I find I like best as a classic whiskey sour, shaken with the juice of half a lemon and half a teaspoon of sugar. When the mint starts growing I'll throw a few torn leaves in for garnish.

Medley Bros. isn't getting the hype of Pappy Van Winkle, Black Maple Hill, or even Buffalo Trace, and that's a good thing. Hiding out on a lower shelf at your local store in a frumpy looking bottle with a plastic twist off cap, at $24.99 its worth every penny. Here's hoping they'll make enough of it that supply doesn't dry up as soon as people discover it. (I'm looking at you, Old Weller Antique).

23 April 2014

GTH, Africa Style

Anyone who reads this blog can tell you that it's style and longevity rather than fast fashion and designers that drive my writing. However, sometimes a designer comes down the line with an original enough collection rendered so well I can't help but admire it. Such is the case the latest collection from Ikire Jones, found this morning via Facebook share from a friend. How can I deny something that is described as "West African aesthetics meets Italian tailoring and English textiles"? The answer is that I simply can't, not when it looks this good.  Almost makes your craziest patch madras look sombre by comparison.
Seriously. Looks like our Mr. Jones just showed us that our good old "Go To Hell" clothes can pack up and go to Hell.

21 April 2014

Rules of Thrifting : Pay a Higher Price (sometimes)

Spring is here, officially on the calendar and kinda-sorta in the weather. With it's arrival comes my switch from Bay Rhum, my preferred aftershave in the colder months, to Royall Lyme. With its bright, clean scent redolent of fresh citrus, I find it to just the thing on a warm sunny day as opposed to the warming Winter spice of Bay Rhum. My last bottle was dwindling, and with only a few days worth left in it I needed to restock. 

Thrift, cheapness, and even common sense would have me go to the internet to seek out the best price from among a number of purveyors, but instead I chose to get dressed and take the subway to Harvard Square to purchase a bottle from the Andover Shop. Best price I could find online was about $30 for a four ounce bottle. At the Andover Shop, I paid $42.50. So why would I, your humble arbiter of the ways of the dashing cheapskate, effectively waste $12.50 so needlessly? Have I gone mad? Is this the end?

Truthfully, I have a very sound reason for the occasional wasteful purchase such as this. If you've read this blog at all, you probably know that I am loathe to pay not only full retail but anything even remotely approaching it, for almost anything. As such, over the years I have developed a number of strategies and tips to share with you all on how the better things can be had for pennies on the dollar.  It takes hard work and perseverance, but its worth it if you're crazy enough to think it is. Still, once in a while, it's nice to just walk in and buy something, and what's the point of all this hard nosed cheapness if you can't treat yourself on a minor extravagance sometimes?

Besides, it's not just a new bottle of aftershave I got that day last week when I bought this. I dressed in the morning and took the subway to Harvard Square, these days something of a treat in itself. I walked its historic brick sidewalks and visited the infamous Charlie Davidson at the Andover Shop. I spent a while marveling at the pile of gorgeous fabrics in one corner, than gained some inspiration for the coming Summer by looking through their newly arrived collection. I got to effectively sit at the master's feet for a bit as he handed down sartorial wisdom from on high, as he is wont to do, and even had a chuckle at one of his famously bawdy remarks, rattled off as though any normal person would say such a thing in mixed company. 

You might say I paid $30 for the aftershave and $12.50 for atmosphere, context, and inspiration. Thrift shopping is something I will likely do for the rest of my life, even if I ever find myself in a fanatical position where it became unnecessary, a prospect which looks increasingly less likely the older I get. But if I don't occasionally at least visit the shops where the goods I like to buy hailed from originally, I lose some of what makes them valuable to me. True, I know these things are expensive at the start of their life cycle, but it's not just material and construction that makes them so. There is an undefinable meaning and essence imbued in these things, and you can feel it when you see them in their natural habitat. It may be that more than anything that makes them so desirable when I do find them for next to nothing amid a rack full of utter garbage. Indeed, it's that undefinable quality that drives to me to collect and wear these things at all in a life that requires simply that I be dressed, in anything. The extra $12.50 also buys perspective.

So, odd as it may seem, one of the rules of thrifting, perhaps one of the most important, is to go to a nice store and spend too much on something once in a while. As long as you don't make a habit of it, no one has to know.

p.s. apologies for the sparseness of posting here these last few weeks. I needed a break, but will return to more frequent posting soon.

p.p.s. S/S 2014 happening now in the online Shop, with more to come soon. Check it out.

12 April 2014

Business Casual

The other day, I read a post  on Put This On about dressing down a suit, and I thought I might offer my own two cents on the subject. As someone who only ever wears a suit by choice, it's something I think about now and then. I personally tend to prefer a sports jacket and trousers most of the time. It's a look that is inherently less dressy than a suit, and allows for more room to play. Jackets can range in color and texture from the staid formality of a classic and well cut navy blazer to tweeds and linens in all manner of bright color and pattern. Still, I do like to wear a suit sometimes. The tough thing is that many suits, particularly navy and grey, are difficult to wear without looking like you're dressed for a business setting, which I never am, so it helps to find ways to soften the edges. 

I'm not a fan of the look of a suit with no tie, something that's become increasingly popular in the past few years. To me, it always looks like you just left the office and are out grabbing a beer before heading home, in other words, like an incomplete outfit. Rather, I like to use accessories and minor details less aligned with business situation to do the trick. Pictured above is a worsted grey pinstripe suit, ($12.98 in a thrift shop), softened with a glen check tie in an earth tone, a pattern and color hinting more at country clothing ($1.99),and a densely printed paisley square rather than white ($2.99, found in the ladies scarves in a thrift store). A white shirt with a suit like this may be as proper as can be with a suit like this, but I opted for a softer one with a button down collar by Brooks Brothers ($5.49). 

Instead of black, all my leather accessories are brown. Added to that, the shoes are heavy longwing brogues, another style derivative of country clothing. The skull and bones socks are perhaps totally silly, but again, a good degree less formal than plain black or grey. (side note: don't wear argyle socks with a suit, ever. I hate that.)

With a little whiff of imagination, you can wear your business clothes in a more casual way.

p.s. In writing this post and searching back through my own blog for links, I realize that I have written much the same thing on this same topic about this same suit before, right about this time of year when I first pull this suit out of storage (see here). I suppose that means that a grey pin stripe suit really is the most challenging thing to wear outside of its proper context of business, or that immutable things like classic menswear are hard to blog about for over five years without at least a little repetition. Oops.

11 April 2014

S/S 2014

It's finally time to pack up the tweed and corduroy, and I've been hard at work preparing the Spring/Summer collection for the shop.  Available tomorrow in the physical store and appearing online  next week.

An Affordable Wardrobe
249 Elm Street, 2nd Floor
Davis Square, Somerville, MA
open Saturday 10am-2pm

05 April 2014

One Thing At A Time

A collar pin can be a quick and easy way to punch up a simple outfit and set yourself aside as one of the few guys who's been paying attention. I find the best way to wear one is to let it be the only unusual element in an ensemble, let it stand alone and do the talking. Being something of a luxury item, I find it also works best with quality clothes and fabrics. In this case, a grey nailhead suit by Paul Stuart ($40 on eBay), a blue point collar shirt by Brooks Brothers ($5.49), a simple navy bar stripe tie by Liberty of London ($1.99), and a plain white linen square. The collar pin is from the Andover Shop, a simple gold colored safety pin style, and the only item purchased at retail, for $17.50.

I find the older I get, the more I appreciate simplicity in an outfit. Before any of you points it out, I'm fully aware that this very blog is rife with photos of combinations that "push it", and I still appreciate sartorial adventure. But lately, I'm really digging the One Thing At A Time school of dressing.

Of course, not being one to ever leave well enough alone, I simply couldn't resist the purple socks.

01 April 2014

Tweed For Spring

I do enjoy Winter, and don't mind a cold day for wearing tweed and flannel, but I'll be damned if even I can't wait for the cold to let up a little and have me a balmy walk in the sunshine. Looks like this week the sun will at least smiling on us, and while the temperatures creep up a little, we can't dive head first into khaki and tennis shirts. And though the streets may be full of people in short sleeves with no coats on, in reality we still need to keep at least comfortably warm. If you're looking to ditch the overcoat (finally), remember that tweed, the stalwart fabric of the coldest times of year, can also be perfect for Spring.

A tweed sports jacket can offer a welcome replacement to your overcoat or Barbour jacket when worn as a alternative to outerwear. It helps to keep color and weight in mind here. Many of the best tweeds are seen in earthy shades of brown ad olive, maybe punctuated with burnt orange. While I do love these fabrics, these colors are too "Fall". This time of year, I stick with lighter tans or cool grey, as seen here. Because of the roughness of the cloth, it's a good choice worn casually with jeans, and it gives me the pockets I need for keys, phone, and all the other crap we can't seem to live without these days.
I like a jacket like this tailored very soft with enough extra room for a sweater underneath. It being (almost) warm (?...not really) today, I've swapped the Shetland sweater that has been an almost daily piece since November with a lighter cotton crew neck. I may still be wearing heavy oxford shirts, but a pink stripe livens things up a bit, as dose a pink pocket square. Baby steps folks. Don't be the guy in shorts shivering at the bus stop.
A recent thrift shop acquisition, this jacket features my (current) favorite combinations of English/American hybrid details: natural shoulders, a 3/2 front, with darts, and real braided leather button. File also under the "What's in a Name" department:
Homework leads me to discover that Sibley's was a small department store chain in New York State, with it's flagship in Rochester. Absorbed by Kauffman's in 1990, and later Macy's, the store no longer exists. Stanley Blacker is a name I remember men of my Dad's generation wearing when I was a kid. It wasn't super expensive, but of generally good quality and traditional styling, in a time when traditional American style was popular enough to support lower tier brands of reasonable quality. Maybe not the most special thing I ever found in a thrift shop, but it fits well, feels good, and for $7.49, it will do just fine until a better replacement comes along.
As a side note, I've also recently discovered that leather and suede saddle shoes are the absolute JAM with jeans. This pair is vintage L.L.Bean, made in USA by Walkover, with a comfortable brick red rubber sole. Acquired through direct purchase from a consignor in my own shop for $25, and worth every penny.

We may all want the cold weather to be over, but it's not something we can control. With a few touches of color and some small changes, you can breath new life into your tweed and manage to keep warm and be seasonally appropriate. You can wear tweed in the Spring.

p.s. speaking of tweed, I have a knockout English shooting jacket available on eBay now. If you're a 46 long check it out. If not, look at it anyway as a reminder that there is s real reason why we call these things "sports" jackets.

p.p.s. the Spring Clearance Sale continues in the AAW Shop, with many items on deep discount. Enjoy an additional 10% off everything using discount code SPRING2014 at checkout through midnight Saturday.