30 April 2009

Pick Up the Thread

See if you can find a logical thread running through this post. I'm having a hard time with it myself.

Mrs. G. and I have been quite busy and haven't been off to the thrifts much lately. But today we managed to make the trip, which resulted in some really choice new acquisitions in both the menswear and music departments.

To start with, I've been known to say that in Massachusetts, one really can't own too much nautically themed stuff. So this dashing tie is a welcome addition to the Affordable Wardrobe:
from none other that the Brothers Brooks.It's funny. This tie cost me $3.99. I've actually reached the point of considering that pricey for a necktie. I've gotten so many good ties for a dollar that paying four times as much seems a bit outrageous to me. But you must admit, this tie is pretty special...its not just embroidered with mere whales, but with weather vanes with whales on them. A true New England double shot! I'll bet this tie originally sold better in Boston than at the New York flagship.

Up next, a nice shirt with a button down collar in blue and black tattersall check:Nothing much to say about it...just a good shirt for $5.99.

But clothes are not the only thing to be had at the thrifts. There are also the records. It's getting harder to find really good ones at these places, but they turn up enough that its always worth sorting through the piles if you're hopelessly vinyl obsessed. Today we scored a couple of points for the Italian team:A young and beardless Luciano Pavarotti, singing his ass off and looking sharp in a striped tie and narrow collar. Can't go wrong there.

And of course, Frankie's somewhat weird record "Cycles" :Which not only features a strange version of By The Time I Get to Phoenix (strange mostly because Isaac Hayes owns that jam), but also bears this photo on the back sleeve:

Tiny Tim: " I mean, really, I never took such a heavy trip in all my life!"
Frankie: " No kidding? You should write that down and mail it to someone who cares, you filthy ukulele playing hippie weirdo. Somebody call up whoever booked this gig and tell 'em the boss wants to speak to them. And while you're at it, bring me some cigarettes and a bottle of Jack to break over this chumps head."

This post may be somewhat odd and disjointed, but so is thrift shopping. Ain't that the fun in it?

p.s. I couldn't find Isaac Hayes doing "Phoenix", but watch this anyway...just because its the jams....

seriously, was there a time when this was on t.v.? Who designed that stage set? Who else do you know who can start out with a Brooks Brothers tie and wind up here?

28 April 2009

Rule #1 : Don't Follow the Rules

"Don't use the rules.
They're not for you, they're for the fools.
And you're a fool if ya don't know that...."
the Clash
While it may seem more than a bit odd for a guy in a suit to carry on about breaking the rules, I beg you to bear with me. I think I might have a point.

Traditional American menswear is rife with rules and regulations, and yet it seems that foremost among those rules is an artful disregard for all of those rules...within reason, of course. With old Ma Nature breaking the law and giving us a humid 90 degrees in late April, I opted for a suit, worn with enough minor infractions to send the more fastidious among us to the padded room.
The recently acquired Brooks Brothers tropical wool tan suit. Maybe it's too early for a tan suit, but I don't care. It was hot and sunny today. And besides, this one's wool, not cotton, so I'm pretty sure they'll grant me a zoning variance on this one.Worn with a bow tie and a blue university stripe button down. I have a pretty good feeling that it's a no-no to wear a university stripe with a suit, but I think it gave this outfit a nice hint of a casual vibe...not a bad thing when everyone else is wearing toddler clothes.Add a surcingle belts with embroidered ducks on it. Most certainly not a suit-appropriate accessory, but who cares? Casual vibe and all that, remember?And last, but not least, penny loafers with no socks. Penny loafers with a suit!?!? Shocking. Sockless with a suit!?!? Unforgivable! And yet, I think this outfit was perfect.

American men are generally taught to embrace a rigid conformity in all forms of dress, be it business or casual. Every guy wears a blue suit with a white shirt, every guy wears jeans and a ball cap on Saturday. It's too bad, really. A man shouldn't be discouraged from trusting his instincts and showing a little flair and personality, when he can get away with it.

Just because you're wearing a suit and other traditional items doesn't mean you have to be a stiff. It can in fact be a vehicle for your own individual personality.

26 April 2009

Il Campione di Caffè Freddo

Here at Affordable Wardrobe, I like to prattle on about the ways in which a man can manage to indulge his silly taste for luxury while being a broke S.O.B. This not only applies to clothing, but also to the gastronomic delights. To that end, I present my recipe for the world's greatest fresh iced coffee. Coffee, from the weak swill at the local greasy spoon to the overcooked pseudo-gourmet junk at Starbuck's should always be fresh. Most iced coffee is more expensive than hot coffee, and it's usually been sitting in the fridge since yesterday...and I guarantee that none of it tastes as good as this.

Start with fine ground espresso. My personal favorite for iced coffee is Lavazza Crema e Gusto. I find it's smooth and somewhat thick texture holds well against the inevitable watering-down that the melting ice causes, but any brand (preferably Italian) will do.Brew a whole pot of it, on the stove top in a Bialetti 4 cup moka pot.Pour the whole pot into a cocktail shaker,with two cubes of sugar...stir to melt the sugar, and let sit with the lid off for a few minutes to allow the coffee to cool. It's important to use sugar cubes. Why? Because this is my overcomplicated recipe and I said so.

When the coffee has started to cool, add a good pour of cold milk, stir and then add plenty off ice.Cover and shake until the shaker feels cold. Then strain into a glass with fresh ice. Add straw, and enjoy with a pasta fritatta or some soft boiled eggs and toast, preferably in the back yard on a warm sunny morning.Complicated? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. If you don't have twenty minutes in the morning to prepare such a concoction, I suggest you set the alarm clock a little earlier. I promise, you'll thank me.

In closing, I beg you to watch this Lavazza commercial. I don't know all of what they're saying, but it's easy to get the gist of it. I gather the fat guy in the Cadillac represents the average American savage. Funny stuff, even if you don't speak Italian.

25 April 2009

Keep It Simple, part 3

At long last, the sun shines bright and temperatures soar into the balmy regions! Only one thing to do: pack up the wife and kids and head for the seaside. I love to visit the ocean. And I don't just mean trips to the beach involving coolers and swim suits. As long as I'm not wearing socks and can roll my pants up I'm set. The act of walking barefoot into the sea for the first time every year is always a profound experience for me.

It is, however, still April. If it were June, I could pull all manner of madras and seersucker craziness, but how does one remain appropriate and stylish in the heat a full month before Memorial Day? The answer (as usual) is : keep it simple.

A white tennis shirt,

Some khakis and a surcingle belt,

boat shoes without socks.

As far as I'm concerned, its classic and easy "no-brainer" looks like this that make all that crazy pastel stuff work so well. This outfit is all about warm weather, and yet I don't find any of it terribly inappropriate for late April.

I chose to top it off with vintage glass-lens Ray-Bans and a Red Sox cap. Let the anti-baseball cap comments roll, fellas! Just remember, I'm from Boston and the Yankees are in Fenway Park tonight. Say what you will, but if wearing a Red Sox cap and listening to ball games on am radio isn't American traditional, then I don't know what is. As for keeping it simple, I will only wear a navy cap with a red 'B' on it...no t shirts, no bumper stickers, no team logos on my atm card...just a proper fitted official cap...on Saturday at the beach, or for a trip to the supermarket, or at the playground with the kids., orfor a picnic of fried whole-belly New England clams, served on a cardboard beer tray, from Woodman's of Essex. No trip to the seaside is complete without fried clams for lunch. I am truly a man obsessed when it comes to this. This stuff will destroy your heart and arteries, but it's one of the most compelling arguments for living in Boston. Today I looked at my seven week old daughter and said to her "One day when you're my age, I hope you tell a story that begins 'I f my Dad didn't get his fried clams every time we went to the beach...' "

So remember, keep it simple: put on some clean clothes, take your kids to the beach, gorge yourself on fried food, develop a mild sun burn, and finish it off by drinking wine on the front porch with the wife. What else is there?

24 April 2009

Casual Friday (Blazer with Sneakers)

With the sun shining bright and warm (finally), and nothing to do but visit Castle Island with the wife and kids, I decided on a thoroughly Boston yacht club vibe. Here is my attempt to trot out a few of the Summer wardrobe items a bit early but without a flagrant disregard for the rules:

When I'm wearing a jacket without a tie, I like to make up for the loss of silk by adding other subtle details to compensate for the flare and color a tie provides. I find a "ringer"collar on a tee shirt, under a dress shirt and with a pocket square does the trick nicely:

And a ribbon belt can be a nice subtle dash of color too:As for footwear, the only choice for a day by the sea is cotton sneakers. I know some of you might think that sneakers and a blazer are a no-no, the exclusive province of hipsters and old farts. But as far as I'm concerned, they're the only choice for this outfit. (Well, okay, boat shoes and sockless would work too, but I've been waiting to wear these sneakers since I got the last week.)Now all I need is the yacht.
p.s. Further evidence of the validity of the sneaker and blazer combo. Channel your inner Number Six.

23 April 2009

Sesame Street Traditional

One of my son's current favorite bedtime books is "Ernie's Neighborhood". While reading it tonight, my eye was caught by this well dressed gent, just an anonymous character walking down the street:
This guys got it all: navy blazer with 2 button cuffs, button-down collar, regimental tie, plain front khakis, cuffed just slightly "high water", and a spiffy hat. He even appears to be wearing brown suede Alden tassel loafers.

Pretty sharp for a random character in a Sesame Street book.

I wonder if his nose is red from too much Scotch...

22 April 2009

Bits of Sunshine

With Spring not quite entirely here, dampness and cold still holding sway, I've been trying to add little scraps of yellow into the regular clothing rotation in an effort to remain weather appropriate while still hinting at (wishing for) brighter days.

Today it was a thin stripe in the tie, drawn out by some colorful argyles:A few days ago, it was this raw silk paisley tie from Brooks Brothers:The combination of dark shirt and light tie is not one I'm prone to try often, but in this case I like it. That shirts not really a tie shirt, but I do like to mix it up now and again. Note the fact that I'm wearing my Barbour in the above photos. As much as I love that coat, I wouldn't mind retiring it for the season...if only it would stop raining.

Last week, for a meeting, I chose a conservative combo of grey suit, blue shirt and tie with a black ground:

The little yellow anchors bring a speck of fun to this one, and the collar pin is a nice change of pace from my usual button down...dressy without being too pushy.

It's often been said that menswear is all about the little details. Use them to cheer yourself up on a rainy day.

21 April 2009

In Praise of 60/40

Since I seem to have pushed so many buttons by wearing jeans recently, I've decided to go ahead and push some more by openly admitting that I have no problem with an occasional 60% cotton 40% polyester blend in a shirt. So long as its nicely stitched and has a beautiful roll to the collar:
Another important detail is , of course, the magic words, "Made in U.S.A." Note also that though this shirt is cotton blend, it still requires the touch of an iron. This "no iron" business is really bothersome.Made by good old Hathaway (remember them?), who sadly closed up shop in 2002. It's a downright shame that a man can't get something as simple as a blue button down shirt made in his own country anymore.These old 60/40 shirts had a good cut, and didn't seem to 'shine' the way that really bad polyester does. I loved them back in the rock 'n' roll days. I could sweat into these things behind the drum set under the hot stage lights with nary a wrinkle, and afterwards they dried pretty quick, too. Way back, in Catholic school, all my uniform shirts were either Hathaway or Sero 60/40's. I miss being able to just go out and buy a bunch of these at a reasonable price whenever I needed some shirts.
The last thing I want to do is get all political here, but I honestly believe that one big step we could take toward fixing the economy in the long term would be to hire our own people to make our own stuff at home. Call me an old-fashioned crank, if you will, but I'm tired of having thrift stores be the only place for a normal person to find quality domestic goods at reasonable prices.

20 April 2009

Cloth Shoes

New cloth shoes for the summer, in classic navy blue and white:

Two days ago, as a sort of birthday gift, I forced Mrs. G to leave the house alone for a few hours to do whatever she wanted. This of course meant shopping , and in true Mrs. G form, she came back not only with things for herself, but gifts for me and the kids. On Mrs. G.'s birthday, everybody wins!

A brand new pair of Sperry sneakers.I never would have bought these for myself, and she knows this, but I am glad to have them. The price of a new pair of cloth shoes these days is something I find a bit shocking, but fortunately I have a wife to take care of these extravagances for me. They'll be great with no socks, khakis, blazer and repp tie, should the weather ever decide to hold above 40 degrees. (I've been wearing a down vest outside all week....no lie.) Now all I have to do is wash the old natural canvas Chuck Taylors and I'm set.

p.s. when did men start taking blue jeans so damn seriously? The twist people get in these days over their dungarees really makes me laugh. See previous post.

17 April 2009

Keep It Simple, part 2

Keeping one's clothes classic and simple is always a good idea with more formal modes of dress, but it's frequently an even better idea in the casual realm. There are a lot of inherently American combinations which have stood the test of time, but I think my favorite is this:White oxford and blue jeans. Can't be beat. Finished off with boat shoes and a surcingle belt. What better outfit is there for the first really nice day of Spring, spent largely outdoors with the wife and kids.

To me, the key to an outfit like this is the shirt. These days it seems to be all the rage to prattle on about these jeans or those, and which are more "authentic". As far as I'm concerned, jeans are from Levi's, and you wash them when they get dirty. No, the shirts the real thing here.

This kind of thing works best with a really old shirt in heavy oxford cloth. It should be one that used to serve as a dress shirt, but its been washed and worn so many times that it has reached an absurd level of comfort. Worn un-ironed of course, it's heavily frayed collar is unbuttoned:the sleeves rolled in an effort to mask the hole worn through one elbow:And yet its still bright white. I think Ralph Lauren made a lot of money selling this very concept in pre-packaged form to the young-uns, which is all well and good, I suppose. But a hole in your clothes only counts if it's your hole.

Keep it simple: wear a white shirt to death, and then keep wearing it. Just make sure your wife doesn't throw it out when you're not looking.

p.s. since when do Baracuta jackets cost $265? When I was a kid, we all got them for school jackets because they would go on sale at Sears for $10. I also remember them being popular with old men on Social Security. What gives?

13 April 2009

Keep It Simple

It's a lot of fun to wear clothes that you know are a little bit crazy. Mixing brightly colored argyle, plaid and stripes all in the same outfit takes a lot of skill and practice, but it can be fun once you learn how to pull it off. And though we all like to bemoan people staring at us and having a reaction to our form of dress, I (and my readers) must admit that we secretly love the attention.

But, as with all things, an opposite, a foil, must be present for contrast and meaning. Envelope-pushing style cannot exist without classic simple style. One must be adept at both to pull either off with any degree of aplomb. To that end, today's ensemble:
J. Press 3/2 sack blazer, $7.49; Harvard "Coop" grey slacks, $3.99; pink J.Press oxford shirt, $3.99; Mr. Sid necktie, $0.99. Very Cambridge.

No outfit is a better example of the perfect American style than navy blazer, grey pants, button down shirt and simple, clean tie.Add wing-tipped shoes and argyle socks for a pinch of insouciance.

But don't dare call this get-up boring. Color and pattern are not the only elements of a man's wardrobe that lend visual interest. Don't forget texture and small details:
A drop of scrimshaw doesn't hurt either, though this detail does play better on the East coast. If you don't live in a sea-faring town, at least make sure to tell people that your scrimshaw was purchased on vacation near the beach, preferably in New England.

11 April 2009

Spring Basics

Even though Mother Nature has decided to hold Boston in the grip of a windy and wet Spring, with temperatures striving toward a scant 40 degrees, I am looking forward to warmer and sunnier days...and with them a different heap of clothes in the closet.

To that end, a few new pieces have recently gained membership to the Affordable Wardrobe...at the usual impossibly cheap prices.

A tan sack suit in lightweight wool. Note the two button cuff and 3/2 button stance, from none other than:good old (as in good because its old) Brooks Brothers. $9.99. A perfect fit, in need of nothing more than cleaning and pressing. A friend of mine is getting married on in the daytime on Memorial Day weekend. I think I just found a suit to wear.

These old Brooks Bothers suits were the best. The three quarter lining makes them very comfortable, and I find their take on the sack cut jacket to be slightly loose fitting without being frumpy. In fact, I've trained my eye to hone in on the 2 button cuff when sizing up a rack of suits at a thrift store. Too bad they don't make them anymore, but I suppose that's what we have J.Press for. I actually found a J.Press poplin sack (with an incongruous 4 button cuff) in my size at the same store, but it had a big stain on the shoulder, so I took a pass.

I also found a very nice pair of medium grey pants in a lightweight wool, for $3.99.This is something I've actually been hunting down for a while. Thrift shopping is fun because you never know what you might turn up,but it can be frustrating when you actually need something. In menswear, the basics, like these grey pants, are the hardest thing to find. Why? Because most men will wear their stuff until it's trash, and then throw it away (or the wife will), so there's often not much of it in good second hand condition. It's the same reason you see so many suit jackets with the pants missing in these places. A guy goes to work, takes of his jacket, then carries it to the car and drives home. The pants get wrecked and the jacket, like new, gets donated. I never buy the top half of a suit, that's chump stuff.

These pants are from the Harvard Cooperative Society, or "the Coop". (that pronounced the same as in Cooper, not 'co-op').I have some vague memories of the old Coop. The first two floors were the bookstore, a really great place, where all the textbooks for Harvard were sold, in addition to a lot of other cool stuff. Above that was the men's shop, which sold sack suit, striped ties, Harvard scarves and sweaters, penny loafers, the whole nine. In back at the annex, was the music department and all the Harvard souvenir junk, sweatshirts and coffee mugs. Now, the men's department is gone, and the bookstore has become a Barnes & Noble with a Starbuck's in it...yet a sign outside still calls it "The Historic Harvard Coop". Kinda like all those stores called "Filene's Basement" that aren't in basements and don't have 6 floors of Filene's above them. Go figure.

Also acquired, not pictured: a pair of Brooks Brothers 'Hudson' chinos in brown, $5.99; a pair of J.Crew chinos (can't have too many of those), $4.99; and really cool Rooster necktie in real Indian madras, square cut at the bottom, $3.99.

Right now, the thrifts have a lot eighties vintage traditional stuff, if you can find it. I wonder what I'll do ten years from now when they're all full of sweatshop junk from the nineties. Better get me a real job and start forging a relationship with the boys at J.Press and Andover Shop, quick!

p.s. In browsing the Brooks Brothers website to find the link for the Hudson chinos, I came across this photo where the model is wearing both buttons closed on his two button jacket. For shame! Can it be the truth?

08 April 2009

Casual Dress (100 years ago)

After reading this recent post on Archival Clothing, I was inspired to strike a decidely 1920's pose today:

My big cable knit, shawl collar sweater, in a weird belnd of silk, linen and cotton, paired with a Brooks Brothers vintage 1950's black bow tie with white dots, black watch slacks, blue oxford, brown longwings, and a tweed cap (not shown)
If only I had a hound, and some countryside in which to walk him.
I realize that I am often prone to complain about the current laxness in adult dress, but it does have its advantages. While its true I enjoy wearing suits and ties, I also like the look of a nice sweater instead sometimes. In the old days such a thing would have been completely unacceptable, but having the freedomto work these kinds of things into my daily attire is refreshing. Besides, even dressed like this I'm still likely to be the most "dressed up" person many of the people I come in contact with will see in a given day.

And truth be told, when the baby's kept you up all night and you're running extremely late, it's comforting to know that you could throw on any damn clothes and leave the house without shaving and no one would care.

But of course I would never do that...

07 April 2009

Cheap Commodities, part 2

Argyle socks from (gasp!) Target.

It's true that every time I set foot in Target I loose a little piece of my soul that I will nevr get back. But with two kids in diapers, you gotta do what you gotta do. And these argyle socks for $2.50 a pair are something I can live with.

Plus, ever since they started carrying Ritter Sport dark chocolate with marzipan, the trip always seems a little worth while, because I get a sweet treat for after dinner. When Mrs. G wants to go there and I'm whining like a twelve year old about how much I hate the place, I've been known to end it with "Fine, but only if I get a Ritter Sport". I'm a sucker for the German marzipan. The butter biscuit and hazlenut varieties ain't bad either.

In other news: Boston Red Sox beat (damn) Tampa Bay Rays 5-3 in the season opener at Fenway Park. In a post game interview on the local news, David Ortiz was wearing a killer patch tweed cap. I couldn't find a photo, but it was pretty cool. A big giant Red Sox home run machine, all around nice guy, and for a dude who's really into "bling", he pulls some pretty stylish moves from time to time. What's not to like about the guy?

05 April 2009

Gardening Attire

A crummy pair of jeans, covered in soil, worn with an old brown dress belt and a faded pair of navy blue converse from two summers ago, caked in mud.
And a blue mini check dress shirt, heavily frayed at the collar, without a shower or a shave.
The only proper thing for a gent to wear for a morning of digging holes and spreading cow poop over them. Four or five weeks to planting.
p.s. my garden blog is open for the season. mostly photos with minimal pontification. Check it out.