30 May 2014

The Jams

H-E-L-L-O Hello Please don't rattle the ice in your drinks.

 I bought the record last week and have listened to this song almost every day since. The Jams on a high level.

29 May 2014

Rules vs. Style

"Get to know the best that there is and was; in every period there have been progressive innovations that represent a better way to live. Get the feeling of different materials, colors, and lighting, of the flow of line in  a piece of furniture, of different spatial proportions. Don't limit yourself to looking at lamps and chairs and your neighbors' houses. Look at paintings and sculpture and chateaux. Even if what you see is far beyond what you ever thought of or could afford for yourself, your experience can be reflected in your home. Even non-visual arts can contribute by affecting the kind of person you are and the emotions you project into the space around you."

-from "Lifespace: a New Approach to Home Design" by Spiros Zakas, 1977

I've mentioned before my affinity for seventies design books, and "Lifespace" by Spiros Zakas, a new acquisition, is a good one. In the quote above, replace the word "furniture" with "clothing" and "home" with "wardrobe" and you have a pretty good quip about why developing a great sense of style has little to do with following trends and rigid sets of rules.

A kilim rug with a glas and chrome coffee table and a collection of African art? Not unlike wearing a button down oxford and repp tie with pleated trousers and suede shoes if you ask me.

24 May 2014

Feast Or Famine

In thrift shopping, the most basic clothing items are often the most elusive. Odd as it may seem, you're often more likely the find unusual things than stalwart basics. With men's clothing, the basic items still get worn, and as such tend not to survive until the time comes to donate them. I have written on this topic before, and in my experience no garment has been harder to come by than a standard grey suit.

The classic grey suit had been so hard to find, in fact, that a few years ago when offered the chance to try custom through Imparali Tailors in New York, I immediately had one done up in charcoal grey in a year round weight wool. The suit has some minor points in the details that aren't entirely right, due mostly to my own miscommunication with the tailor, but in general I've been happy with that suit.

Then, in the past few months, the flood gates opened, and three other standard grey suits of excellent quality managed to find their way to me, each through a thrift channel of one kind or another. On the left we have the most recent acquisition, a mid grey tic weave in lightweight worsted with a ticket pocket and forward pleated trousers by Polo, from the heyday of USA production, had for $34.99 via ebay. In the center, a slightly heavier suit with a nailhead weave, also with forward pleats, by Paul Stuart, another ebay find, this one was $40. On the end, a heavy but soft flannel from the Andover Shop, gotten through trade with someone who bought it at a thrift shop. And that's not to mention the two suits I have in grey pinstripe, one for Summer and one for Winter.

Patience really is a virtue, especially so in thrift shopping. If you can only bide your time, every famine will be rewarded with a feast....eventually.

19 May 2014

Cheap Commodities

Funny, not so long ago I would never have imagined that being a grown-up involved wearing shorts in the Summer time. In fact, I would likely have railed against them, citing some sort of archaic rule about "short pants being only for children", and instead plodded around in long pants as a matter of principle. In other words, I'd have taken a view of Summer clothes childish in its narrow-mindedness, and indeed ridiculous in its archaism.  And this from a guy who wears a coat and tie by choice in the Summer, when the occasion is appropriate (or not).

The older I get, the more I come to appreciate a good pair of shorts. I admit that my own personal comfort takes more and more precedence over the opinions of others as I age, but I still like to look my best. True, the slovenly look of cargo shorts, crummy t-shirt, and flip flops is still endemic in our culture, and the streets are full of grown men who still wear the same clothing they wore as toddlers, but that isn't to say that shorts are necessarily childish. It is possible to be dressed like a grown man in shorts, it just takes a little more skill. Still, they are at best something of a cheap commodity and it comes as no surprise that I refuse to pay full whack for them. Enter "Cheap Commodities" stalwart Lands' End.
Yesterday while sorting out the warm weather things I realized that I could use a few new pair of shorts, and not surprisingly, Lands' End had offered me 30% off in the most recent of the emails with which they inundate anybody who ever bought anything from them, ever. I'd complain, but when I do in fact order from them the deals are deep, the customer service is legendary, and the stuff is always well worth it. The pair pictured above, in patchwork bandana pattern, may not be for everyone. They're "go-to-hell", which is a good thing for shorts, and who knows how they'll look in real life, but at $14 ($19.99 less 30%) there a gamble worth taking.  Feel free to disagree, but I think these will be a staple with a plain white tennis shirt and boat shoes, or even a favorite worn old pink oxford shirt. A note on styling is in order here too. Lands' End offers shorts that are cut classic and above the knee, a perfect middle ground between saggy, childish cargo shorts and wide legged, pleated, high waisted old man shorts (looking at you, Jos. Banks). I tempered the purchase with a pair of classic chino shorts with a 9 inch inseam in a color called "club green" ($14.97 less 30%= $10.50).

As much as the #menswear community (uck!) may chafe at the idea of shorts, in many ways they are the easiest garment to get right. Stick with clean cuts and an inseam above the knee, and feel free to indulge in fun colors and GTH patterns at will. Like I said, all you need to go with them is a stack of tennis shirts in white and navy blue. Second hand and vintage are always best, but anyone can buy them cheap from places like Lands' End, J. Crew, or even, dare I say it, the Gap. Save your big money for the better things. Shorts may be something of a necessity, but are also a cheap commodity.

14 May 2014

Worth Every Penny: State Bicycles

Readers may remember that Mrs. G and I had our bikes stolen by a trio of wretched fiends last Fall. Shortly thereafter I managed to piece together an English three speed from the components of a pair of such bikes. Ye Olde Raleigh looked good, had vintage appeal, and was serviceable.Best of all, I could ride it in a jacket and tie. But still....

I missed my old fixed gear bike, like hell actually. At my age (37), it's a tough thing to talk about with people given the obnoxious "hipster" connotations associated with such a bike. Admittedly, at the age of about 22 when I first learned to ride fixed, it had more to with aesthetics and "street cred" (how I hate that term) than anything. I can admit that, because at 22 the opinions of others matter more to most people. But as I get older, I thankfully outgrow the obsessions of my youth, which in most cases leads to better things informed by the spirit of that which came before. Still, fixed gear bikes are hard to "outgrow". It;s a totally different way of riding a bike, and after fifteen years of practice one not only gets used to it, but prefers it. Imagine driving stick all your life and then being compelled to drive automatic. It's like that, but with bikes.

I recently received a new bike I ordered online from State Bicycle of Tempe, Arizona. As someone who built most of his bikes from collected parts, I was leery in general of a store bought complete bike, even more so of buying one online. But the word was good about State Bike, the bikes looked sharp (important) and at $429 with free shipping, the price was right, so I bit. I may not have outgrown my fixed gear obsession, but I have definitely outgrown my aversion to the convenience of buying a new bike in ready to ride condition. Besides, at 22 I never had that much money at once. Age has it's advantages, too.
The bike arrived via UPS in about a week, in 3/4 assembled condition. It only took me about ten minutes to attach the handlebars, pedal, seat, and front wheel. The tires came about half inflated, but in no time I was off and running. State bikes aren't the lightest in the world at about 20 lbs, but that is not a complaint. The steel frame rides easy and handles the bumps and holes the city throws at me. The geometry is set perfectly for street riding, not as tight as a track frame. In fact, it feels as close to my old modified Fuji road bike as any thing could. Painted matte black with no decals save one fairly handsome logo on the head tube. Should dress up nicely with a brown leather saddle, cork grips and a wire basket.
True, it doesn't have a beautiful old style lugged frame like my Fuji did, but the welds are clean and low profile. I think I can live with it. If it can help me lose a few of the pounds I've gained spending way too much time driving around in a car, I'll take it.
It even looks right at home hanging out in my Shop, an important consideration.

For those of you not into fixed gear, they also offer a pretty sharp looking single speed called the "Saturday Bike", with bonus points for having a chain guard and an old style quill stem. At $429 shipped and in my house in a week, State Bicycle is worth every penny.

p.s. I'm keeping the old Raleigh. It has it's moments.

p.p.s. I initially went to my favorite local bike shop to get a new bike, a practice I fully recommend. After perusing their website and deciding on what to buy, I went in with money to spend. Unfortunately, the fellow who "helped" me repeatedly said I was "too old" for fixed gear, insisted on showing me bikes I didn't want, and then flat out refused to sell me the one I did want because, according to him, I'm an "over the hill hipster" and I need to "grow up"  ( quotes because those are his actual words. Imagine it).  Little did he know he was talking to the world's youngest old fart. Somebody needs to teach that guy that sometimes good customer service is giving advice and educating customers, but sometimes it's keeping your mouth shut and just taking the money. Knowing the difference is the trick. I suppose he was trying to be sarcastic or funny or something. Jokes on him, my money went elsewhere.

10 May 2014

Thrifting Strategy: Ralph to the Rescue

Go ahead, sit down. Some of you are not gonna like this...
Let's begin with an old style AAW run-down of the days ensemble focusing on the crass subject of the low prices I paid for all of it, you know, like I used to do in the old days: Navy pinstriped double breasted suit, recently acqured from ebay, $30; Brooks Brothers point collar shirt, $5.49; Robert Talbott tie, trade; Albert Thurston bright orange braces, new-in-box (not pictured), trade;
and a pair of black tassel loafers by W.S. Foster and Sons of London, $9.99. Total cost of outfit= $45.48.

This suit represents the end of a long trip for me. After all, I'd been wanting the very suit for about twenty years, since the first time I laid eyes on it as a teenager in the 90s. To be sure, I thankfully no longer desire most of the same things I did as a teenager, but this particular cut of Polo suit has stayed the course. Readers may remember my excitement a while back at having also acquired a navy blazer in the same cut.
Soft shoulders, some drape in the chest, and the inimitable wide, knife sharp Ralph lapel.
And of course the 6x4 double breasted front with the option to be worn at either point, a detail I have never seen on any other make of jacket. Even the staunchest of Ralph's detractors will have to admit that there is some excellent attention to detail in the better  American and Italian made lines form Polo.
Forward pleated trousers, standard issue for Ralph in those days. People like to hate on the dude, but back then the only other place offering forward pleats outside of Britain was the Andover Shop, Yes, it's true, Charlie and Ralph have things in common. In fact, for as much as Charlie likes to rail on Ralph and his minions, a complaint I fully understand, I have heard him say the Ralph and Julia Child are responsible for rescuing American middle class taste in the 1970s. I'm inclined to agree. I've spoken in Ralph's defense here before. An entire generation may have grown up with no knowledge at all of good clothing and French cooking. To think of it.
I can remember being sixteen years old and seeing ads like this one in my Dad's copies of GQ, back before that magazine had become the complete cartoon it is now. And I wanted that suit so bad, but they were expensive. Even when they turned up at Filene's Basement (the real one) they were pricey, and besides, what business does some punk-ass teenager have wearing a pinstriped suit just for the hell of it? Talk about pretension. I suppose it went hand in hand with my underage preference for Dewar's or Johnnie Walker over cans of Natural Ice. Damn, I must have been an annoying kid. All of which brings me to my point.

Thrift shopping is of course a random and haphazard thing, but if you keep at it long enough, trends begin to emerge. Just as there are current trends in clothing, such is also the case in thrift shops, the only difference being that you'll see the trends of the past. Much of what you'll find tends to be fifteen or twenty years old, with the oldest things reaching back about fifty years. There are of course exceptions, and you may find brand new items with tags or true antiques.

A lot of whats out there now is from the 90s, and a lot of that is as dated and ugly as you might imagine. But in a time when adults first began to dress wholeheartedly like children, Polo was one of the only mass market brands producing better quality clothing in cuts and styles that don't look dated today, and there's a lot of it. Sure, there's still Brooks and Press to be found, but if we're going to survive the impending "dark times" in the thrift shops, it will largely be Polo that gets us through. Then we can breathe a sigh of relief when the young men of today who were fortunate enough to be a part of the current menswear renaissance begin to donate they're old clothes. 

You can wear well made nicely tailored and styled second hand Ralph, or else wear Armani with an absurdly low buttoning point, massive shoulders, no vent and lapel gorge set two inches too low. The choice is yours.

06 May 2014

What's In A Name (it works both ways)

Recently on a hunting trip I found a glen check suit with a tan cast and a faint blue overcheck, styled in full blast traditional American details: 3/2 roll, undarted front, two button cuff, center vent, and flat front pants. First thing I saw in amongst a lot of junk that day, I scooped it right up.

Via none other than the High Holy Brethren Theyselves, the Brothers Brooks. Score, right? Maybe not.

This suit felt a bit "crunchy" as I say. Lots of times, in thrift shops, things feel this way when they are in desperate need of dry cleaning. Lots of times, good dry cleaning brings hem back and renders them soft and cozy once again. But not always...

Turns out this ones "Crunchy" a'cause its made mostly out of polyester. For shame, Brooks Brothers, you say. But let us not forger that it was the very Brethren Theyselves that unleashed DuPont's Dacron monster on the world. In the end, I left this one behind.

A "Good Name" isn't always attached to good quality, just as good quality isn't always attached to a "Good Name". Know the difference.

p.s. new stuff in the Shop. Go see.