29 November 2008

Bargain Hunting

I often write about thrifting on this blog as a way of finding the good stuff cheap, but lets not forget the old fashioned bargain hunt. While I usually loathe internet shopping, how could I resist these:

They are from the fabulous overstock page on the Land's End website. Originally $60, these pants were marked down to $14.99 (hmm, wonder why), hemming including and the shipping was free. Plus, the color is called 'Cranberry', so quaintly New England it makes you sigh, even if the pants are made in Hong Kong.

Free shipping can be a funny thing, and you pretty much get what you pay for. I ordered these pants 2 weeks ago. 1 week ago, according to UPS tracking, the pants were left at my back door while I was out. After a good look around the house and the back yard, no pants. So I called UPS, and explained the situation. They said 'we delivered your package'. I said 'But I don't have my package'.They told me fairly bluntly and a little rudely that it wasn't their problem. I said 'so that's it, then?'. They told me I should call the shipper.

So I called Lands End. Let me tell you, they gave me some right proper old fashioned customer service. After asking me for my order number and confirming my address, the operator said, in a charming midwestern accent ' darned UPS' and assured me a new pair would be sent to the hemming department the following Monday. End of the week and the pants arrive. Sure , she referred to me as 'Mrs.' throughout the phone call, but service like that is hard to come by these days. If we could get back to combining that kind of polite service with American manufacturing, in ten years time we'd be laughing at the current economic fiasco. But that's just my wistful opinion.

These pants have a perfectly classic straight cut, and the cloth is a first rate, heavy wide wale corduroy. Being such an avid thrifter, its a treat to buy fresh. As I tried them on, my wife half-jokingly said to our young son 'It's a miracle, Daddy bought something new for himself.' Well, it only happens when the price is right. Being cursed with a combination of permanent mild poverty and inherited old world stinginess, it's something I can't help.

Of course I plan to wear these Cranberry Cords on Christmas, perhaps with a white cable knit sweater. In the meantime, I think they'll make a fine semi-regular addition to my winter wardrobe, with a tweed jacket or blue blazer perhaps. Look for their virgin run sometime later this week.

28 November 2008

Popular Demand

The old header photo is back.
The people have spoken.


Now's the time of year
For heavy corduroy suits
Olive green, three peice
With a wool knit tie
And some bulky wing tipped shoes
In a leather chair

25 November 2008

An Eye on the Future

It's always a good thing for a gentleman to keep an eye on the future. One must provide for the children, plan the weeks meals, see the crash of the financial system coming and so forth. In thrift terms, it this means looking at what people are selling for Christmas and planning to hunt for it in January and February.
Take this pair of pants from Orvis for example:

I can only hope that some guy gets these for Christmas and with a strained smile says "Oh, Thanks", then jokes about them over football with his buddies, makes a crack or two about the sort of guy who might wear them, then sends them to the Goodwill when his wife isn't looking. If said guy happens to wear a 34" waist, then I'll score them for $5.99 in time to wear them a few times before this winters thaw.

Always keep an eye on the future.

A Wee Bit of Local Fame

Seems someone at Boston Magazine has been reading the musings of yours truly. How exciting.
You can't buy a phrase like ...'reeks of Cary Grant'. I am humbled by the compliment.
Thank you, Miss Sheppard.

24 November 2008

For the Last Time, Hems

Men's fashion icon of the 20th century, the late great Duke of Windsor.
Seems he didn't like his pants all bunched up at the hems either.
That's the last I'll say about it, promise.

23 November 2008

Winter Wardrobe

Regular readers will note that the header of "Affordable Wardrobe" has officially changed into it's winter clothing. Who ever said that loud patchwork was for madras only?

One of the weirdest, and coolest, thrift finds we have is this odd lap blanket from the Andover Shop that my wife picked up a couple of years ago:
It measures about four feet square, and is made up of bits of some of the finest tweed and flannel cloth I've ever seen, getting a dash of color from a few swatches of corduroy embroidered with such things as strawberries, tennis rackets, lobsters and my personal favorite, the drunken-turtle-top-hat-reveller:

Then there's the back, which consists of three strips of shirt cloth, one blue oxford, one viyella and one tattersall, so soft:I can't think what purpose this blanket was intended for, other than for an old man to drape over his legs while smoking his pipe in a big leather chair in front of the fire with a dog at his feet. We use it to wrap the boy's legs when we're out walking him in the stroller on a particularly cold day.

If it were bigger, I'd seriously consider having it made into a pair of pants. Now that would be something. After all, when you shop thrift for everything, its nice to think that if you ever were to spend a lot of money on something as extravagant as custom made clothes, it would be something as outrageous as that.

p.s. isn't Thom Browne over yet? I know its been awfully cold in Boston lately, and I'm guessing it's been cold in New York too.

21 November 2008

The Jams

Clothes are not the only thing I obsess over and feel compelled to pontificate over, so I've decided that "The Jams" may become a fairly regular feature here too.
I recently made a comment on our man Toad's blog which brought up the question of Best Movie Soundtrack record. My bid was for 'A Man and a Woman' (Un Homme et Un Femme), music by Francis Lai. Both the record and the movie are great, and I stick with my choice.

The movie is about a widow and widower, who meet and fall in love because their children go to the same boarding school. He's a race car driver, and there's lots of cool clothes, cigarette smoking and general dramatic Frenchness. The big Denouement comes when, after winning some sort of race across France (in a Ford Mustang of all cars), he receives a phone call at the black tie after party, rushes out of the place in his tux to the muddy Ford (which he apparently drove to the party from the race without stopping) and drives all the way back across France to be with her, on the beach no less,'she' being Anouk Aimee, so maybe his behaviour is justified.

The music is what sells it for me. The theme song is a little goofy, but it is certainly classic. Besides that, we have a little bit of French Samba Jazz, a melodramatic sort of spoken word broken heart song, lots of tympani and strings, and a creepy little number called 'In Our Shadow'(a l'ombre de nous), a softly sung lilting melody accompanied only by an electric organ, piano, and persistent human heart beat.

Plus, if you're looking for romance, you could do worse than this record+candlelight+leg of lamb with roast potatoes+a bottle of Gigondas. A clean house and 'the good dishes' also help.

Rent this movie if you have the chance, but definitely get the soundtrack. For those of you who have turntables and shop thrift, this record has a habit of turning up for a dollar quite a bit.

p.s. the cover artwork alone is worth a buck.

p.p.s. a goofy thing called Genderanalyzer says it is 82% likely that this blog is written by a female. Serves me right for posting about French romance films I guess.

20 November 2008

D.I.Y. Cuffs

So, after arguing with the tailor and resorting to D.I.Y. cuffs, here is the result:

A 29 inch inseam, with a 1 1/2 inch cuff just touching the top of the shoe with a slight 'break'.

Seriously, whats to argue about? Do my pants really need to be 3 inches(the amount of cloth removed from this pair) longer?

19 November 2008

The Big Boots

Today I wore the Big Boots:

The Big Boots are an anomaly in my wardrobe, sort of. They are very rugged and western, and they only go with jeans. I actually find it difficult to put outfits to them. And I don't ride horses. But they are so nice and so inherently American that I can't bear to part with them.

Today's attempt was to pair them with the Big Sweater, an article of clothing I handle more adeptly:

I know it looks in these pictures like the outfit made no sense, but in the bright sunshine of a 28 degree New England afternoon, under a brown goose down vest and my ever present Barbour jacket, somehow it did.

I like these boots. They're the kind of thing Ulysses Grant,

and Teddy Roosevelt might have worn. And with shirts and ties at that.


Bass Weejuns? No. Traditional American? Most certainly yes. It's good to step outside the boundaries now and again.

18 November 2008

The Rumpled Professor

Today it was cold, blustery and windy as hell. The perfect weather for 'the rumpled professor':

Usually I crop the books out, but today they make the outfit.

Thick tweed, vest sweater, knit tie and button down collar. Doesn't get much more East Coast than that.

Dark green 'Elf Shoes' and stripey socks, for a bit of the old 'devil-may-care'

And the best part is: flannel lined khakis. What an invention! We all owe the guy that came up with this idea a drink... at least those of us in the bitter cold Northeast.

I should have mussed my hair for the final touch, and spent the day in a dusty office in an obscure corner of some basement in some university.

My apologies for yesterday's sappy post, we all have our weak moments.

In other news, there is a new sidebar devoted to our ladies. Whereas the men like acquisition and kvetching, the girls tend to prefer crafts and children. Check them out.

17 November 2008

A Sob Story

I've recently been making the rounds of Boston's venerable old men's shops in a desperate search for part time employment. I've hit them all: J.Press, Andover Shop, and most recently Brooks Brothers. No dice yet. But that is not the sob story.

Ever since I was a teenager, I have made a habit of filling my closet with clothing from these three brands, as well as others on the same level, and I have been fortunate to come by a lot of great items. I've been even more fortunate to have paid some kind of bargain price every time.

Truth is, I have never, repeat never, actually purchased anything in any of these places. Sure I've gone in and looked around. I've politely declined sales help with the usual "No thanks, just looking". I have never been the first owner of any of my better clothes. I have never put on a brand new suit, had it fitted, and come back a week later to pick it up. Truthfully, though I often wear such clothing by choice, I haven't been required to on any kind of regular basis for at least 15 years.

As I read the accounts of others regarding places like these, it makes me pine even more for some kind of "good old days" that I am too young to have experienced. One by one, as these places lose their identity and sell their souls to sweatshops and marketing, I wonder if I will ever be fortunate enough to experience them first hand, or am I doomed to a lifetime of sartorial archeology.

" World's smallest violin" and all that...

15 November 2008

Even I Can't Believe This One

It's a good thing screwing around on the internet is a sedentary activity. You'll want to be sitting for this one, a thrift find that exceeds even my own comprehension as a well seasoned thrifter.

Meet the "Silver Trumpeter" by Hart, Schaffner & Marx.

You read that right, 100% cashmere.

From Finney Woods Men's Shop in Haddonfeild.

The cut, label and two button cuffs date this coat firmly in the early 1960's.


I don't watch Mad Men like I know a lot of you do, but that coat is awfully Don Draper, don't you think.

The best thing about thrift stores is when they keep the 'good stuff' behind the counter because of its $20 price tag, and all day long people become incensed that they could have the nerve to charge so much for a coat. Until someone like me finds it and has to contain himself so as not to let on what kind of stealing it really is to pay so little for something so nice.

Everything's relative, I guess.

14 November 2008

More D.I.Y. Guerilla Tailoring

After having recently complained about some shoddy hems that were way too long, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I taught myself how to produce cuffed hems, on dress slacks by hand (without a sewing machine). If I do say so myself,I'm happily surprised with the results:

The first pair I tried were these dark grey J.Press flannels. I bought them about a year ago at a thrift shop, never got around to having them tailored and never wore them, so I figured that even though they're nice pants I wouldn't miss them if I screwed up royally. But I didn't and now they fit like a glove.Next up was this pair of pleated grey flannels. I recently had these tailored, and I wore them the day after, and even posted about them. But I have a confession to make. They were so long that I wore them all day uncomfortably high. All shame on me, I picked them up without trying them on, so you can all go ahead and have a field day on that. When I took the pictures for the blog post, I settled the waist correctly, and made sure my feet weren't showing in the pictures. But all's well that ends well and they fit great now.

So have a look at this little secret I discovered when I took down the old hems:

Looks like somebody cut my pants too short, caught the mistake, fashioned a patch, hid it in the cuff and didn't inform me of it. Shame! All the more reason to do it myself.

Not to bust all tailors, though, because the Tartan slacks were repaired with fine hand made craftsmanship and care, by a more attentive professional. And there's nothing like a jacket that has been tailored properly, nothing.

How did I learn all this so quickly? I watched some videos on youtube about it, thought it over for a while and gave it a try. I don't advise this approach for everyone. To be fair, I have worked in men's clothing retail before in a shop with an in house tailoring department, and my Dad's Dad was a tailor and my Mom's Mom was a seamstress, so I have a good understanding of clothing construction. Plus, being a student at architecture school, I'm good at measuring things precisely with rulers. But if you're feeling confident, why not pick up a junker pair or two of slacks at the local thrift, never mind if they fit you, and give it a try. Knowing how to do it can't hurt, and you may wind up saving a couple of bucks.

13 November 2008

Heavy Duty

To borrow a term from fellow blogger Heavy Tweed Jacket, I give you my own humble version of the full "Heavy Duty Ivy" look:
Comfortable, casual and relatively waterproof. The three things I was looking for today, as the weather was dreary and I was feeling a bit lazy. However:Throw a bow tie at it and you elevate the whole look from 'lazy over-priveleged white boy (which I most certainly am not) ' to 'quirky New England country gentleman (which I most certainly am not) ' in a snap.

The Jams

The radio can be a real drag to listen to, but here in Boston we are fortunate enough to have a handful of really good stations, thanks to the proliferation of universities in the area. Every morning, after n.p.r. news, I like to listen to WHRB, the Harvard station, because they play outrageously good jazz until 1 p.m. One d.j. in particular shares my taste exactly and has a proclivity for l.p.s, so you get to hear pops and scratches even in your car. This saves me the trouble of dealing with the record player while I'm puttering around the house.

Today, a guy I'd never heard before came on. Two songs into his first set, he played something with the most disgusting noodling guitar I've ever heard. It was indescribably bad.I don't know who it was, but it sent me running for the record player.

This was a blessing in disguise, as I wound up rediscovering this l.p. in my collection, which I actually forgot I had:

Talk about the Jams with a capital J! It's a bit blurry in this picture, but this was recorded in Stockholm in November of 1962. If I were posed with one of those silly questions like 'If you could only bring one jazz record with to a (fill in the blank)" this would rank high on the list. Taking into consideration the personnel and the date on this record, I don't think I need to say more. Any jazz fan will understand.

12 November 2008

Arguing with the Tailor

I've used a few different tailors over the years. Each one has had his particular strengths and weaknesses. But they all have one bothersome thing in common: I invariably have to argue with them over the length of my pants.

I like a 29" inseam, just touching my shoe and covering my sock with only the slightest suggestion of a 'break'. They always want to go much longer. When I've deferred to them, I've ended up with pants a mile too long, or wearing my pants up to my armpits to make the length right. What's odd is the fact that this seems to be typical of almost every tailor I've used. I often have to say something along the lines of 'I'm the customer and they're my pants, so just do what I ask.', which diminishes the whole experience of having a tailor, in my opinion. I always want this to be something to look forward to, not a chore or an errend. Now I'm sure these guys are used to dealing with a lot of people who have no idea how clothes should properly fit. You would think they would be glad to get a customer who knows clothes and knows exactly what he wants. Or maybe they find it a bit odd, since most men today tend to like their pants to fit like a set of window drapes.

My wife has a sewing machine. I think I'll just learn to do it myself. My grandfather was a tailor, so maybe it's in my blood.

11 November 2008

More Shoes

I don't really need a pair of brown suede split toe oxfords, but when they turn up for $12.99 it's hard resist the compulsion:

They promise to be awfully sharp with grey flannels, a herringbone sport coat and a blue button down. Tomorrow, as long as its chilly enough.

And now a sartorial conundrum: are natural canvas Converse Chuck Taylor's strictly a summer shoe, or do they work with khakis and a crew neck sweater when its a sunny 60 degrees in the Autumn? Your thoughts are appreciated.

09 November 2008

Archi-torture, part 2

The old Archi-torture has kept me quite busy this week, and promises to continue keeping me busy until Christmas, so posts may slow to once or twice a week. Unless of course I wear a particularly stunning outfit on any given day, in which case I will of course be compelled to share it with strangers. In the meantime I'll be building site models of streets corners in Boston and proposing outlandish new structures for them (theoretically, of course):

Wait till you see what I have in mind for that parking lot in the middle.

Here's To The Simple Things

Lunch on a chilly Sunday with my wife, the boy playing with toy trains.
Tomato soup with saltines, grilled cheese sandwich. Perfect.

05 November 2008

Rugged Formality

One of my favorite things in the vocabulary of distinctly American menswear is the nonchalant way in which formal and non-formal items wind up in the same combination. It's a phenomenon that only works with American style, something our pal Heavy Tweed has lately referred to as "Heavy Duty Ivy". Today it was raining, and I wore a suit, in Massachusetts. Heavy Duty Ivy all the way:

I'm a big fan of the Barbour over sport coast look, and an even bigger fan of the Barbour over suit look. The trick is to make absolutely sure that your suit coat is shorter than your rain coat.I also like considering the plaid lining to be part of the outfit. I love having that much visual interest buried inside my clothes.Underneath the waxed cotton, its all business all the way, if a bit rumpled and slouchy (on purpose of course).

I wore this outfit to the Ralph Lauren store in Boston in my never ending quest for any kind of employment. That store is weird. It's really nice and you want everything in it, but if you stay there long enough you begin to feel like all the mannequins are cartoons of you, or like you yourself are a cartoon. In retrospect, the idea of working there makes me feel a bit like a chump, since I swore to never work retail again after my last job. Maybe I won't fill out the application after all (or maybe I better take whatever I can get).

I need a job bad. Lately I find myself getting all dressed up to go to night classes because riding the subway in a suit in the city lets me pretend...I don't know what. But really this is beside the point, as it has become clear to me that if I in fact did work for an architecture firm these days, I would be the only person in the office not wearing jeans, or even shorts.

I apologize for the minor rant, but when did we collectively decide to stop being grown-ups?

Plaid as Hell, Part 3 ( or How To Save $90)

The outside of my Barbour jacket may as well be made of iron, but the lining is getting all torn up behind the pockets. It must be the keys I carry in them. Recently, when I brought the coat in for wax treatment, I asked about repairing the lining. They could do it, but they wanted $90. That's a pretty hefty sum of money for a non-essential fix, so I decided to live with the rips.
Then one day I randomly came across an old twin bed sheet in nearly the same plaid for $1.99 at a thrift shop, and I decided to buy it for patch cloth. I realize the two plaids don't exactly line, but Barbour devotees are always talking about the pride they take in their coat having 'battle scars', so this doesn't bother me a bit.Every man should know how to do some light sewing, such as this. It took me about an hour to cut the patches, iron over the edges and sew them in. If I had taken this to a tailor, it would have cost me $30 and would have been without my essential jacket for a week, and the weather looks like rain for the next few days. Plus, there's also that good old 'do-it-yourself' satisfaction.Here's another hidden potential thrifting secret of mine: When you come across a pair of pants with a plain hem that are about an inch too long, you can easily make cuffs on them. Simply fold the cloth up, steam into place, and tack stitch at the four points where the seams meet. If you look at tailored pants with cuffs, that's really all they've done anyway. You just need enough cloth under the hem to do it.

04 November 2008

Plaid as Hell, part 2

Behold, the Tartan Slacks in their full glory:

I had to break a personal rule and wear French cuffs with a blazer. Initially I was wearing a white button down, and promptly dumped coffee on it. In a hurry, this shirt was the only one that both matched and was pressed.Scrimshaw, stripes, Tartan and brass buttons. It should be too much, but I think it works.In other news, I called on J.Press and Andover today to inquire on the status of my possible part time employment. They both replied that lack of business would unfortunately prevent them from writing any extra paychecks at the moment. Oh well.

So I stopped off at Brooks Brothers to ask the same question. The store has recently been renovated, and it definitely smacks of fashion now, and everyone has an Italian accent (seriously). Still, I'd work there for Christmas.

In other other news: a black president. I'll be damned, I guess we're collectively more progressive that I thought after all. Good for us.

I realize that I have just mentioned the election and the economy in this post, but please no political comments. This blog is for fun. Let's discuss goofy plaid pants at great length instead.

03 November 2008


Following my last post, a commenter, initials CG, had this to say:

What I like about what you do is that it requires a certain degree of sartorial knowledge. You learn fit, proportion, color, and all that at a fraction of what it costs idiots like me. It has taken me year, big bucks, and lots of amorous wrecks...live and learn. Wish these blogs were around a decade before.Did you learn the basics before thrifting or was it more of a trial and error experience?
And so this post will give a little more background on where I'm coming from. No pictures, lots of nostalgia.
I grew up in an Italian family in (what used to be) an Italian neighborhood near Boston. I still live there, and wouldn't have it any other way.
In case you hadn't noticed, Italians enjoy getting dressed, for better or worse.
I am the conglomerate of two distinctly different ways of thinking.
My father's father was a tailor. I mean a real, custom clothes tailor. I mean my Dad, in his high school yearbook photo is wearing a custom made tweed jacket, made for him by his father. By extension, my Dad is a clotheshorse, albeit in a more 'funky' way than I.
My mother's father was a concrete worker who wore the same pair of dickies for about 100 years with the same t-shirt and ratty, home made cardigan. I currently live in the apartment that once belonged to him and my grandmother.
In high school, I became obsessed with old movies, and began going out of my way to dress like it was 1939. I amassed a huge collection of short, wide, vintage ties and high waisted, deep pleated pants. I favored double breasted jackets with gigantic lapels...and thrift stores.
My Jesuit high school had a loose dress code: shirts with collars and no blue jeans. I wore a jacket and tie every day, by choice. In junior year I landed a job as cashier at the now deceased Simon's Copley Square, an old family men's shop with a real tailoring staff. (that staff included on John Pisano, a true master. I am privileged to have had him hem my slacks.) By the age of 18, I owned 24 identical white oxford button down shirts.
Then I went through a fairly long phase of punk-rock-ness of one kind or another. To some this may seem odd, but in fact it is also a specific type of dress that requires an enormous amount of attention to detail. Perfect for the obsessive compulsive mentality.
Then I got married and had kids, so back to respectability.
Through it all, I have manged to remain relatively broke. The glory that is the Internet has now allowed me to share my wisdom with you.
Tomorrow I will buy AA batteries, so I can get back to taking pictures of my clothes and stop boring you all with the details.

01 November 2008

On Hidden Potential

Anyone who has read this blog more than once realizes that I am a thrift junkie. I can't help it. I love the hunt and the 'thrill of the score'. But I also enjoy wearing good clothing, and refuse to settle for junk just because I'm shopping 'creatively.'

For years, I have been a long time champion of thrifting with an upscale frame of mind, by which I mean being an avid thrifter who knows the importance of a good tailor. Keeping the tailor and the thrift shop closely linked in one's mind opens a world of opportunity. It's all about finding hidden potential, and then having your tailor exploit it for you.

When shopping in a thrift store, it is important not to take everything at face value. Maybe there's a great jacket that's your chest size, but is huge in the waist, for $5. Don't think 'It's too big', think' it fits in the shoulder and it's $5. I can have this taken in for $15. 15+5=20.' Twenty bucks is pretty damn cheap for a quality sport coat, let alone one that has been tailored for you specifically.Similarly, remember the power of dry cleaning. Don't think 'this suit is a little musty' think 'what a nice suit. for 15 bucks it'll be fresh as new.'

By way of example, I offer two of my latest finds, the Harris Tweed and the Tartan Slacks.

In the case of the Harris Tweed, we have a really great jacket that is hard wearing and versatile, but smells a bit like the attic, for $7.99. Add $10 for dry cleaning and a three day wait, and I still come away with a jacket for $17.99.

The slacks are an even better example. To start with we have vintage wool Tartan plaid slacks for $2.99. Not only are they about 6 inches too long, but a close look at the run of the plaid lines along the seems reveals them to be (gasp!) quite flared. Not to worry. I took them to the tailor, had the length measured and then explained to him about the flares. He measured the existing hems, which were 10 1/2 inches, and said 'I can make the 8 1/2'. So, for $2.99 for the pants+$10 for the hems+$12 for the tapering I get a striking pair of pants that are both unusual and fit like a glove for $24.99.

My point is, any well dressed man ought to know that the clothes he buys are usually not fit to wear until the tailor has worked on them. This is why any real men's shop has a tailoring staff, and insists on fittings and alterations. A thrift store find, when it is of sufficient quality, should not be viewed any differently.