31 March 2009

It All Comes Together (relativity and scale)

Pattern mixing can be a slippery slope if you're not careful. But when executed correctly, it will really set you off from the sartaraily conformist crowd. The real trick is to develop a feel for color, contrast and relative scale.

This outfit contains three distinct patterns (four if you count the socks). Yet, at a distance of 4 or 5 feet, only the most prominent one, the plaid of the jacket stands out.Closer inspection reveals a richer story. All patterns, and a bright square. It shouldn't work but it does. Why? Plaid, paisley, stripes...the patterns are all different. Large, medium small... they are all of a different scale, and as such do not compete, but work together. Anchors...the orange pocket square and olive green pants hold it all down. Texture...the roughness of the jacket against the mid-smoothness of the oxford shirt, against the smoothness of the gabardine slacks, against the tactile interest of suede shoes.
Think of this heavily earth tone outfit as my lead up study to wearing the damn olive suit I just bought. It's funny. I can throw together patterns like there's no tomorrow, but I can't figure out a green suit.
p.s. I rode a bike in this outfit today, shoes and all. Subtitle this post "Cycling Attire part 2"
p.p.s. a question: are fair isle sweaters a fall/winter thing, or can I wear one in the sunny 50 degree Boston weather? advice appreciated.

30 March 2009

Extra Suits

Men's clothing has relied on the same small collection of staple items for a very long time. Styles come and go, lapels and neckties go from narrow, to wide and back again. But the triumvirate of Navy Blue suit, Charcoal Grey suit, and Blue-or Grey- with-Faint-White-Stripe always hold court. And then there are the questionable cousins, the "extra suits", such as olive green. Recently one found it's way into the Affordable Wardrobe,
a vintage 1960's number, 3/2 sack, plain front cuffed pants, for just $7.99from old manufacturer Palm Beach, and old long gone Boston men's shop Kennedy's. (sadly, no linkable info available for either).

A nice light weight number, and a slightly less dressy suit option for Spring.

Olive suits are a tricky thing. Though the color may be quiet and dull, they can be surprisingly difficult to match with shirts and ties. They don't always work well with white shirts, they sometimes work with blue shirts, and they go best with ecru shirts, only I hate ecru shirts. They don't go with brown socks or grey socks, but rather tend to defy logic and work best with bright socks. And though we live in an increasingly too-casual society, many offices that require a suit will frown on them. They occupy some sort of weird middle ground, being somehow less dressy than even a navy blazer and grey slacks. No wonder they only enjoy brief and short lived moments of popularity.

I remember back in the nineties when I worked at Simon's they were the new thing. We used to call them "earth tone" because you just couldn't sell a guy a green suit, no matter how hard you tried. But we would only sell them to a guy after he had a blue suit, and a grey suit, etc. In fact, we'd even talk guys out of it if they didn't already own the basics. No man really needs an olive green suit, myself incuded.

But what the hell, it was only eight bucks. I'm thinking with a bow tie, argyles and penny loafers, it will make a great suit for a casual Friday.

25 March 2009

Cycling Attire

Since old Ma Nature has finally seen fit to bless the city of Boston with a day that was not only sunny, but also comfortably warm, I thought today might be a good time to discuss cycling attire.

I love travelling by bicycle. In fact, before my wife became pregnant, I didn't even learn to drive a car. People would always ask me why, but that's a post for another place (maybe Channeling Bunny). Many people would find this a great restriction, but I found it quite freeing, kind of like not having credit cards. I would always tell people that they should ride a bike to work when the weather permits, and the most frequent argument against it always had to do with having to dress for the bike. Obviously, these people had never heard of the trusty English 3 speed.

I took this picture on my way home from work this afternoon. Note the manner in which I am dressed. Note also the lack of spandex, shorts, or even a heavy bag around my back. This is all thanks to the bike. The English 3 speed was mass produced forever in Britain as a means of transportation for the average adult, in a time when the average adult dressed like an adult.

These bikes are great. They still make similar ones today. However, so many of them were produced at one time that a little digging will easily find a proper old one for a fraction of the cost of a piece-of-junk new bike. And of course the coolness factor increases exponentially. Features to look for include: a basket to carry all of the junk that modern people see fit to cart back and forth to the office these days, an upright stance making it possible to ride in a sports jacket, fenders to keep splashes off of your clothes, and a chain guard to keep your right pants leg out of the chain without having to roll it up. It's a dressy bike, and a comfortable ride.

You can ride it dressed like this:

Algebra teacher chic

Don't forget to wear your helmet! ( if only someone would design one that doesn't make you look like a mope).

23 March 2009

The Best New Shoes Are Old Shoes

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the best thing about having shoes repaired by a proper cobbler is that you get shoes that are like new, only better, because they aren't. They come back to you fresh, ready for another few years of service, but with all the comfort and suppleness that the last few years of wear have given them.

Here are my old Florsheim "Imperial Quality" longwings.

Regular readers of this blog may note both the frequency with which I once wore them, and their recent absence. That's because they started to look like this: So I took them to the friendly Armenian gentleman who runs this unassuming little shop:He's a real talker, this cobbler, but I love it. Every time I go see him, he regales me with tales from the old days and homespun shoe advice. I think he likes me because I always bring him well built old shoes to repair. He told me my wingtips are really old. He could tell because the original heels were attached only with nails, no glue. He said this is what shoes looked like when he was an apprentice. He then lamented the fact that he would not be able to repair them in quite the same way, but that of course his work would be top quality. He told me it's too bad they don't make double soles like these anymore, and that if I repaired these shoes every few years, they would last me a lifetime.
Then he said "These shoes deserve real shoe tress, the wooden kind. I only sell plastic ones, because most shoes today are so cheaply made that the tension on a wooden tree will split them. But for these, you should have wood."One week later, they're like new, only better, because they're not.I just need to find an excuse to wear a suit so I can give those new rubber heels a test drive. I've got a couple of surcingle belts that need to be shortened a couple of inches. Who knows what kind of stories I'll get with that.

p.s. on my recent disappearance of the last few days: The 2 year old has been sick as hell. I've been sleeping on the floor in his room, or rather waking up every 1/2 to help him, and keep him out of our room where the baby sleeps. He seems to be feeling much better today. Maybe I can start sleeping in abed again soon. The little girl is doing wonderfully, but she is only three weeks old. Add to that the new(ish) job, school, and the unending laundry, dirty dishes, and clutter that fill my house...well you get the idea.

20 March 2009

First Day of Spring (past, present, future)

Spring has finally arrived. Eastern Massachusetts responded with a bright sunny day, balmy with temperatures in the high 30's. One of those days when you look out the window and think "what a gorgeous day!" Then you go outside and spend the day trying to convince yourself that it's not cold, when in fact you're almost freezing.

Mrs. G and I decided to celebrate by taking the children on a thrifting excursion, something we haven't done much lately. As I've mentioned before, thrift shopping takes a sharp eye and dedication. The ability to see the past, present and future in perspective is also helpful. For example:
The Past

Think about the past, and remember that it is bound to repeat itself. We may all be itching for the cotton duck pants and madras right about now, but that's no reason not to sift through all the tweed jackets. Winter will happen again. In fact, it's the perfect time for buying tweed. Nobody wants to think about it and the selection is yours for the picking. This half lined 3/2 sack jacket, made of this luxurious soft fabric:
cost all of $7.99. That's less than what it cost in the 60's, when it was new. From one of America's long gone small men's shops. Anyone have a good story about a place called Ed Michtom's?

The Present

Being an American, I value instant gratification. Shopping is no fun if you don't get something you can use right away. As luck would have it, this old pair of Sebago Campsides for $7.99 are the perfect shoe for Spring. So comfortable, casual but smart, great with argyles, khakis and striped ties. Best of all, the magic words: made in USA. Even the venerable L.L.Bean blucher mocs can't make that claim anymore.

The Future

One day it will be Summer. In Massachusetts this means that no end of nautically themed clothing is too much. This neck tie embroidered with anchors and ships wheels may be more than a little silly, but with a white shirt, a pair of Nantucket reds , no socks, and topsiders, you're set. True, I don't own a yacht, but that doesn't mean that a little of the old sprezzatura, and my inner Thurston Howell, can't pull this off.

The point? If you go into a thrift store looking for something particular, forget it. Be persistent, look through everything, and snatch the good stuff, regardless of the current season. It's the only way to navigate these places successfully. Take the broad view. In the long run, you'll be glad you did.

18 March 2009

Comparison Shopping

Recently, our man Conor of Young Man/Old Man has put in a couple of plugs for yours truly as a master of the thrift store. I humbly thank him for his recent kind words. With that in mind, I thought it might be nice to steer away from my recent cultural musings and throw in a good old fashioned Affordable Wardrobe post, prices and all. The price in black reflects the going retail. (approximate) and the price in red reflects what I paid for it.Brooks Brothers blue oxford, $65/$1.99. Silk tie from Aras, a long gone men's store. Ties of comparable quality sell for about $50/$2.99. The mystery jacket, (now with brass buttons) from a USA factory. Sew in a J.Press label for $525/$3.49. Silk pocket square, $20/$1.J. Crew "Essential Chinos", $60/$5.49. Allen Edmonds brown suede 'Bradley', $500/$12.99. Coach belt (not shown) $90/$1.99. Red socks from H&M, $4.99/$4.99.

Grand total: $1315(ouch)/$34.93(whew)

One of the best features of traditional American menswear, the real stuff, is it's sheer longevity. Not only is it built to last, but the style remains timeless as well. This not only makes it an admittedly sound investment for those who can afford to cough up full freight, but it also means that you can buy it old and still have it forever.

One day I hope to be able to have the experience of shopping new, straight from the source. I'd like to be on friendly first names terms with a real old salesman at my favorite shop. Until then, I'm happy to sniff out the thrifty leftovers and keep the dream alive.

17 March 2009

Festa di San Patrizio

On St. Patrick's day, the entire city if Boston suddenly decides to be Irish. I've got nothing against old St. Pat, I'm just tired of college boys using it as an excuse to drink all day. So I usually do something obnoxious like wear bright red.

My protest will stand until it becomes common practice for everybody, Italian or not, to walk around handing out Zeppole di San Giuseppe on March 19.

Back in the salad days of Punk Rock, St. Pat's was a pretty sought after night for a good gig, it being the drinkin'est of holidays. This was compounded by the existence of a plethora of nouveau hardcore bands who aligned themselves with Irishness, a particularly Boston phenomenon. This usually involved bagpipes and kilts (aren't those Scottish?), fighting and of course, binge drinking.

Today I dug up one of my old poster portfolios and found one I did for a gig one of my bands had on St. Pat's about five years ago:This was just after the Boston Celtics had stopped using this guy as their main logo. That night, I wore a t-shirt with an Italian flag on it that said "Italian Bad Boy. North End Boston", you know, just to be a punk. I tried to convince the guys to cover Angelina at the Pizzeria by Louie Prima with me singing, you know, just to be punks. They didn't go for it.

St. Patrick's parents were from Rome, anyway, which means that technically he's even more Italian than I am. Maybe we should all be eating green spaghetti or something for supper tonight.

16 March 2009

Three Easy Pieces

I've been wearing the combo of Barbour jacket, Lands End down vest and J. Press grey flannels like something of a casual Northeast three piece suit for about a week now. I think I like it.
I find that by wearing the vest open at the bottom, and showing some shirt cuff below the sleeve of the Barbour, this group can be imbued with a certain casual country sort of elegance.If I were the sort of man to roam the lake with a rifle under my arm hunting for water fowl, I think I might dress like this, with my flannels tucked in to a high top pair of Maine Hunting Shoes. As things stand, this makes a pretty good look for a budding architect who likes to dress well in an increasingly too-casual business world.As a side note, these old J.Press oxfords had a pretty nice collar roll. Sometimes I see guys wearing button down collars with a lot of starch in them and I wonder why. Isn't the whole point of this kind of clothing the perfectly American concept of fusing dress and casual into a distinctive form of comfortable elegance?

15 March 2009

In the Details, for Better or Worse

It's often been said that with menswear "it's all in the details". Certainly this is true. Readers of this blog all know, I'm sure, about things like hooked vents, no darts, the number of buttons on the cuff of a jacket, the direction of the slant of the stripes on a tie, and so on and so on, ad nauseam, as a marks of quality and often origin. But 'the details" aren't always good.

These days, 'trad' or 'preppy' or whatever-you-want- to-call-it is enjoying a minor spell of youth popularity. I'll admit, I own some of these clothes myself. Not because they're trendy, but because, like everything else I've ever purchased, I managed to find them cheap (or should I say, priced at their real value). One thing I've noticed is that they all have silly, contrived details. Two examples:

This shirt from Rugby has made more than a few appearances on this blog. It may be something of a piece of sweatshop junk, but it only cost me a couple of bucks, it's hard wearing and it looks well even when I don't iron it, which can be a handy quality in a shirt when I find myself in a hurry. And say what you will about the brand, if it makes the young'uns think that critter pants and striped ties are cool, it can't be all bad. At least a few of those kids might outgrow it and move on to the real stuff. But:
Down at the tails, it has these silly bits of imitation necktie sewn in, and worst:this silly little guy on the chest relegates this garment firmly in the "sweater shirt" column. Insufferable. I'd like this so much better if it were just plain.

These khakis provide a less egregious example:

Again, sweatshop junk to be sure, but they're cut well, the cloth is sturdy, they were only $5.49, and so on. But again we see the fake neck tie sewn on the inside.

Why do so many of these brands feel the need to add these silly suggestions of the classic repp tie all over everything? Can't a guy just wear an actual striped tie with these things? These kind of details make me feel silly owning these things. I know enough about menswear to feel like a chump when I give in to this sort of ham-fisted attempt at the old university vibe.

The problem is, I can't really afford the good stuff.

The trick is, mixing this junk in selectively, among the good stuff, and keeping your mouth shut. That, plus wearing it with style and confidence, is the key to building An Affordable Wardrobe.

13 March 2009

la primavera, contorni

This will be the last post in this little mini-series loosely based on the approach of Spring. I really need to find time to get to a thrift store soon, so I can bring this blog back to some semblance of it's original self.

Here we have an interesting old cotton neck tie, perfect with a chambray sport coat in the warmth of late Spring: from one of the innumerable long-gone men's shops that every town with college boys and grown men used to have. Anybody out there go to Princeton and shop at Langrock?In case you're wondering, those guys on the tie are from an Italian deck of cards. The standing figure, il Fante, is sort of equivalent to the Jack, and the rider on the horse, il Cavallo, would sort of be the Queen. Since Italian card suits only contain 10 cards, these two would also represent 8 and 9.

Here we see them on a very worn out, greasy old deck that belonged to my grandparents, Peppino and Elvira:

They played these cards for hours every night after supper. They had been playing their whole lives, but I think they used this deck for at least ten years. My brother and I used to sit and play Briscola and Scopa with them at night sometimes. I remember being about 12 years old, in their apartment with some friends of theirs visiting. The air was thick with cigarette smoke. Nonna let me drink a little bit of stove top espresso, or "black coffee" as it was sometimes called. ( as opposed to drip, or "brown coffee", suitable only for Americans with weak constitutions). I guess that explains a lot.They both used to cheat, a lot. Peppino was clumsy about it, he'd always get caught. Elvira liked to deal from the bottom of the deck.

Here we see the four Aces, as injected into the skin of my left forearm, a memorial to Elvira:

top to bottom: Denari, Coppa, Bastoni, Spade

Gasp! My tattoos! I guess you've seen them peeking out of my shirt sleeve here and there. When summer hits and the tennis shirts come out of the storage box, they'll be in every picture. Consider this a warm up. Every year, someone whose used to seeing me in shirts and ties is taken completely by surprise.

What's this post got to do with menswear? Very little. With Spring? Even less. This blog seems to be headed in a direction of it's own, sometimes. Could be that having a new baby in the house has got me thinking a lot more about Family, Tradition, and "The Old Days" lately. Maybe I should change the name. Any suggestions?

12 March 2009

la primavera, secondi

In keeping with my last posts theme of sneaking in the spring details, here are two more examples.:

A simple burgundy striped button down with a classic repp tie, a combo for any season.Yesterday, the cotton khakis made an appearance. They've moved into the regular rotation. Since it is still March, I've eschewed bright argyles in favor of a somber grey. One fair weather element at a time, in this case the pants.

And speaking of pants, here's an outfit that goes straight from work to the playground:It was bright and sunny today, but awfully chilly. I stuck with cords, but in an effort to evoke warmer weather, i wore the Go-To-Hell red ones. (side note: I know I could have used the acronym GTH, but the excessive abbreviation that is so rampant today is a pet peeve of mine. That's why I use whole words, and actually dial whole phone numbers. But I digress.) It's funny how in December these pants have a decidedly holiday vibe, but in March they become a precursor to the outrageous summer pants. I have a lot of those. (since my blood runs Italian, we'll call that 'sprezzatura' )On another note, I dropped my Florsheim longwings off at the cobbler for half soles and heels today. I love that guy! The stories he told me...but I'll save that for next week when I pick up the shoes.

10 March 2009

la primavera

Seems like everyone's got Spring on their mind these days. The menswear blogs seem to be a tad bit preoccupied with seersucker and madras lately. While it's true, I do love those things, and look forward to the warmer weather, it's still only March, and I do live in Boston. I look at this time of the year as the last chance to wear my favorite clothes, the heavy stuff. For me the trick is to gradually phase in hints of bold color, be almost sneaky about it:

A Viyella necktie, how cool is that? I should wear this thing more often, it was two bucks well spent. It's thick, but because it's part cotton it's also soft. I find the bright color palette of the Tartan can take an outfit out of the Winter blues on a dreary day without being over the top.This pair of grey flannels from J.Press ($5.49, tailored them myself) is far and away the best fitting, nicest pair of pants I own. They are as versatile to me during winter as my khaki's are in summer. The bright yellow socks, a little extra visible thanks to the penny loafers, add another subtle dash of color. The rest of the outfit consisted of a vest sweater, heavy oxford shirt, Barbour jacket and tweed cap, all cold weather items in and of themselves, lightened up by a few select accessories.

People are always complaining about Winter around here, and it drives me batty. It gets me especially when I hear older folks who have spent their lives in the Northeast do it. Firstly, what's so bad about Winter? It's pretty, it's lots of fun for the kids, and you get to wear lots of nice clothes all at once. Second, there comes a point where people need to stop acting surprised every time it snows in Massachusetts. And third, when I was a kid, it started snowing on Halloween and didn't stop until Easter. The stuff we get now is a poor excuse for Winter anyway, and I kind of miss those old school hard snowing days. Builds character. Maybe I'm crazy, or maybe it's just because my birthday is in December.

Besides, what good is Summer without Winter? No pleasure without pain, Circle of Life, blah, blah, blah....

p.s. Can one really use the phrase "penny wise pound foolish" when talking about buying pyjamas for over $100 a set rather than having them custom made by a shirt maker? Somebody wake this guy up. (snarky...)

07 March 2009

Tweed, Repp Ties and the Italian Man

Today I came across this silly little novelty book in the house:

I remember stealing this book from my Dad when I was in high school. It's very silly. Among myriad nuggets of wisdom on the intricacies of living "La Dolce Vita", including how to inhale cheese fumes, how to practice pinching a young ladies posterior, and a chapter on hand gestures labelled "Isometric Communication" (har, har...) we find this comparison photograph:Apparently, striped ties, tweed and button-downs are antithetical to the very concept of being Italian. Damn! Now I've got an identity crisis on my hands!

p.s. extra credit if you can name these two fellows.

p.p.s. Tin Tin, if you're reading this, there may be hope for you yet.

Okay, one more, because it's just too funny:

06 March 2009


I thought it might good to talk about coffee on my return post from my brief absence. Why? Because when a beautiful little girl like this enters your life:

you may find that coffee takes on additional importance. ( She's pretty damn cute, right?)

I'm very particular in my coffee habits to a point. I like it strong and rich. I only brew espresso at home. I buy fine ground coffee in vacuum sealed bricks, and brew it on the stove top in a Bialetii moka pot.

There are two ways to go about this. First there's the Affordable Wardrobe way:When we first got poor enough for me to really pay attention to prices, I tried like hell to shave every penny I could from the grocery bill. My coffee was one of the last things to suffer the cut. Thankfully, I discovered Cafe El Aguila. It's rich and creamy, very strong. I like it with some sugar and a healthy bit of milk in the morning. At a mere $1.59 per 250 gram brick, it's the best deal going. The company is based in Miami, and apparently it's popular with Cuban ex-pats. Last I checked, they know a thing or two about real coffee.

Then there's the uncompromising Italian way:

Caffe Danesi is my favorite. Intensely flavored, but with a mellower, more delicate texture. It's extremely hard to find. Some of the Italian cafes around town serve, but my local Italian grocer is the only place I know to buy it. (I know what you're thinking: "why don't you look online for it?" Because the internet takes all of the thrill out of the discovery of things, that's why.) Today I bought a brick as a celebration for myself of my baby girl's birth. At $6.49 per 250 gram brick it's a bit more dear than El Aguila, but when you consider the fact that some people spend that much (and more) a day on the burnt swill that Starbuck's calls coffee, it's still pretty cheap.

And the way the house smells when this stuff is brewing...incomparable!

Throw away your drip pots and percolators, toughen up, and drink real coffee.

More menswear related drivel coming soon.

03 March 2009

Radio Silence

Our baby girl joined the family at 9:46 this morning. I'll be on radio silence until further notice while we get acquainted with our new tiny treasure.

02 March 2009

Peppino's Razor

Today, by sheer chance, I happened to inherit my grandfather's Gillette Safety Razor. The old stainless steel, double edged dinosaur was called back into active service.

For as long as I can remember, I've been shaving with a 'safety razor', the invention that followed the straight razor but preceded the ghastly disposables which are so prevalent today. Sure, when I cut myself, the cuts would bleed like mad. But eventually I developed a feel for it, and I firmly believe that nothing on the market today offers a closer, cleaner shave in experienced hands.

This evening, after letting the old beard settle in for two days, I lathered up only to realize that my old razor was gone! I think it fell in the garbage and went out with the trash last week. I was immediately gripped with dismay over the prospect of going to Leavitt & Pierce to drop a pretty chunk of change on a new one. Those triple blade lubricated jobbies are for the birds if you ask me.
Then, on a whim, I ran up to the upstairs apartment, where my parents live. My dad is an incurable pack rat. We've made fun of him about it for years. But tonight his compulsive behavior came in handy. I asked him if he still had any old stuff that belonged to Nonno Peppino (my namesake, Giuseppe 'Peppino' Di Nardo). Within minutes he produced a shoebox from the attic. Inside, among other trinkets, was this little rusty box:
And in the little rusty box was my grandfather's razor:

"Can I have it?" I blurted out. "Sure" said my dad. I took the thing, ran downstairs, popped in a fresh blade, lathered up and had a terrific shave. Afterwards I put the razor back in the box, and put the box back in the medicine cabinet, in the same spot where Peppino kept it for over forty years. ( We live in the apartment that belonged to my grandaprents. They bought the house in 1964. My kids are the fourth generation in my family to live here.)The ghosts in my house just got a little bit happier.