03 April 2009

Cheap Commodities

Quality can be a tricky thing sometimes. I look for it in everything. Even when I'm buying things at dirt cheap prices in a thrift store, I won't settle for less. Why? Because no matter what you spend on something, to buy low quality is to waste your money. In building an Affordable Wardrobe, however, one must find the loopholes. Certain items are of roughly universal quality, regardless of brand name cache. I call these items the "cheap commodities", things like tennis shirts ( I don't call then polos bacause they wre designed for tennis.)Every year around this time I stock up on tennis shirts in various colors. Come Summer they will be my uniform. I will wear them in bright sun, and the colors will fade. I will wear them by the sea, and the salt air will accelerate their deterioration. And I'll sweat all over them. Therefore, I see no point in owning fancy ones.

This batch recently arrived in the post from Land's End. Sure, Land's End is a weak budget knock off of L.L. Bean, but these shirts fit well, and they're available in every color imaginable, plus they're cheap, so I won't feel bad cutting them up into cleaning rags in September, or wearing them for yard work next Spring.

I've owned plenty of Lacoste tennis shirts in the past, and frankly I don't see much difference between them and these, other than the price tag and the lack of ostentatious label recognition. If anything, I find the Lacoste shirts to be more than a bit unforgiving if you are less than svelte, which makes the Land's End shirts better in my particular case. Last year, I bought a pile of tennis shirts at H&M. Those were pretty good for short money too. I'm also a fan of Gap socks and cheap Marsala for cooking.

It's foolish to buy cheap junk if it really is just junk. It's even more foolish to pay top dollar for it because an ad campaign and goofy label won you over. It's true, brand names can be a loose guide to quality, but with more and more companies spending more and more money on marketing and making up the difference with the cheap sweatshop labor, the lines are becoming blurrier all the time. Learning the difference between real quality where it matters and petty brand name hype is one of the sharpest weapons in a man's sartorial arsenal.

Besides, tennis shirts are basically glorified t-shirts with collars on them. They may be an indispensable wardrobe item for the Summer, but I'd rather spend my real time and money on important stuff, like tailored clothing and things made of silk.

Stay tuned for the acquisition of summers other cheap commodity: canvas sneakers.


Anonymous said...

Picked up four Land's End slim-fit polos (read: tennis shirts) last summer for around $20 each. Well made, GREAT fit, no logos, and all for a price less than one of those R.L. "Big Pony" shirts.

If you've gotta buy new this is the way to do it.

Anonymous said...

Lands' End have reduced their
long-sleeve Original Oxford 60/40 blend
OCBD shirts from 19.50 to 12.99, but you must use this item number or you pay full price: 24773-96Q8

Anonymous said...

I have always preferred LE polos to LLB's, not because they are "weak budget knockoffs", but because they are a bit lighter in weight--which is just what one wants in the summer.

The cut of LE's OCBD collars is also far superior to that of the LLB version. Not quite a BB collar, but certainly closer than the LLB version.

jeremy said...

Agreed! Can't wait to see what you pick up for your canvas shoes. This company is a friend of mine

and they do a great canvas shoe and they are ALSO a company that cares.

Anonymous said...

good post.....i've found eddie bauer ones 2 for 20 if you have access to to an outlet 100% cotton no logo and good for a summer or two

Armilyn and David said...

Are the Lands' End items at Sears the same as in the catalog/website? You might be able to save some shipping costs. Never bought any of their stuff, but I do need a new po- uh, tennis shirt, so I may have to check it out.


Middle-aged Diva (Carol) said...

Have you seen this? Sales are pretty good.

You need either a member to recommend you or you wait till an opening.

I tried both ways and got in in about 5 days. Not sure which worked, since they didn't mention referral, it's probably just being on the waiting list.

urbpan said...

I loathe these kind of shirts because I associate them with demeaning work outfits. I also find them unbearably sweaty. They are part of the uniform for many of the people at my work, even the poor kids working in the hot sun at the carousel.

No doubt you will make it look good.

Giuseppe said...


I think the stuff at Sears is a little bit junky, kind of like the Brooks Brothers "346" line vs. the real stuff.


How else am I going to make all those pastel colored pants that I wear in Summer seem normal? A navy blue or white tennis shirt can go a long way toward holding a pair of pink chinos in place...at least in my own twisted view of things.

Young Fogey said...

Synchronicity again! I had two Lands End experiences today, and then I read your blog.

First, this tie (in Berry Red) arrived in the mail today. It's my first step towards building a wardrobe of clothes to go with a seersucker suit. (Now, to get the suit....)

Second, I was at a local thrift store, where I found a couple of very nice suits from a recently-closed local men's shop. Too big, so I kept looking... and found a tweed jacket I liked. I looked inside and saw two things: a Lands End label and--a Harris Tweed label! The price? $10. I just about pooped my pants. $10 for Harris Tweed! And it was made in the USA! (of imported fabric, obviously.) I put it on, and though the cut seemed a little odd, it fit OK. Could it be? I tried to button it, and--hey, why is there only one button, and why is it on the wrong side? Argh! It was a ladies' jacket that got misplaced in the men's section. (It fit because I'm a 37 short.)

I disagree with your assessment of Lands End as being "a weak budget knock off of L.L. Bean." Lands End originally made sailing clothes and later expanded into other areas, just as L.L. Bean started with hunting clothes and later expanded into other areas. I have Lands End wool pants I bought 8 years ago and have worn about 2-4 times a month since. Other than having lost some of their suspender buttons, they show no signs of wear and tear (and they have watch pockets, which I love, because I use a pocket watch). Their shirts look good and last a long time, and though their casual shoes are made in China--whose aren't?--they fit well, look good, and last. Finally, their customer service is second to none. You get a real person answering the phone almost immediately, and she's always a native speaker of English. What's more, their "Guaranteed. Period.®" policy is great.

However, I can't speak to their tennis shirts, as I don't wear them anymore (though I did wear Lacoste tennis shirts with skinny ties in high school--ah, the 80s!).

Anonymous said...

Let's hear it for Lands' End...the poor man's Brooks Brothers (for those of us who have no access at all to thrift shops).

In these economically-troubled times, it's Lands' End that keeps us clad in Oxford cloth buttondown shirts, regimental stripe ties, and chinos.

In my eyes, they are rendering a great public service,and yes, their customer service is superb.

Anonymous said...

I agree on your ad campaign. J.Crew has a workshirt for 98.00 and a Timex watch for 150.00. I was a sucker and purchased both at a discount (promo code)

The way they marketed the items you would think they invented them. LL Bean has a work shirt of higher quality and Orvis sells a similar watch with a set of ribbon bands for about half as much.


David V said...

I sense a little East coast bias in the LE vs LLB statement.
There are indeed, some things LLB does better that LE as there are some things LE does better than LLB.

Both offer good clothing of value and you will speak, on the phone , to someone who actually lives and works in Wisconsin or Maine!

Anonymous said...

One might reasonably argue that it's thanks to Lands' End that L.L. Bean has been forced to keep their prices at a reasonable level.

Mateo said...

I've picked up two lands end OCBD, 100% cotton Made in USA (starched to cardboard) and a pair of Lands Ends Made in USA wool pants (with buttons for braces) for about 15 bucks. I also picked up another H. Freeman sack suit yesterday and a vintage Brooks Brothers Tweed sack coat for $10! Love thrift stores!

foolio_iglesias said...

Canvas sneakers-Holla!

Young Fogey said...

Don't get me wrong about LL Bean! I have nothing but good impressions about them (my grandfather was a customer), and I am happy with the few LL Bean items I have, and want more.

One thing that LL Bean does far, far better than Lands End is offer everything in all sizes. Lands Ends, sadly, offers way too many items in size M and up only--not much good for those of us who wear S. Their suits and sports coats are only infrequently available in short sizes, and never smaller than 38--not ideal for those of us whose size is 37 short. They have stopped offering many pants, shorts, and belts in waists smaller than 32--OK when I weighed more, not so good now that I'm closer to my ideal weight. For size selection, LL Bean has Lands End beat hands down.

P.S.: Jos. A. Bank is having another sale on seersucker suits: $129 for a two-button Haspel suit, and $99 for the 3-button version. If only my clothes-buying money weren't tied up elsewhere right now!

Young Fogey said...

My apologies--they aren't Haspel seersucker, but (presumably) an in-house brand. Mea culpa. (And they're already sold out of the 38 short--dang.)

Armilyn and David said...

I actually ended up at Sears a few hours after I wrote my original post. Checked out the tennis shirts--one for $19 and a pima cotton made in Peru for $25, which I believe is where Lacoste shirts are made--same factory perhaps.

Anyway, the pima cotton felt better, as it should, but both were cut on the generous side, and I didn't see any slim/athletic cut. I like my tennis shirts to fit like shirts, not blouses. I'll leave those to golfers. I'm a medium, but even the small looked big with sleeves that would end just above the elbow. So I passed.


Young Fogey said...


I know what you mean about the, shall we say, overly-generous cut of today's clothes. I guess some manufacturers have decided that we are a nation of fat slobs and won't buy trim/slim/athletic cut clothes, because we can't fit into them.

I'm afraid that, in all too many cases, they're right.

However, that's not the only element of the equation. What has also happened is that the "prison chic" look of criminals* has filtered out to the society at large, mainly through the medium of rap and hip-hop fashion, which adopted this "prison chic" look as its own. Since I don't like looking like a rapper or a criminal, and since I don't like wearing clothes that look (i.e., are) too big for me, I wear relatively trim clothes. Like you, I am often disappointed in my quest to find clothes that fit me, rather than 2 or 3 of me.

* When incarcerated, criminals have (or perhaps had) their belts and shoelaces taken from them. This makes their pants fall down and their shoes flop around. For some reason, this sloppy look spread into rap and hip-hop.

Although it's unfair to call rappers (etc.) criminals, it is merely a statement of fact to observe that the majority of rap & hip-hop "musicians" are black, and so this is another instance of a black fashion passing into the society at large.


LandS end sucks.

Giuseppe said...

Perhaps you would like these sweatshop tennis shirts better if they came with an alligator on the chest and an exorbitant price tag.

Anonymous said...

Lands' End is in no way a, "weak budget knockoff" of anybody. I've worn Brooks Brother, LL Bean and Eddie Bauer clothing for years. Brooks Brothers, I feel, has walked away from me. It used to be a good value - notice I didn't say inexpensive, but now it is simply outrageously expensive compared to the competition and Lands' End is far and away the best value on the market - period. I have some LE polo ("tennis") shirts that I've worn for years. I care for them, turn them inside out when washed in cold water and then hung to dry. I do not cut them into rags, but when I can no longer wear them, if they are still in moderate condition I give them away so that someone else may get some use out of them. I have found LE clothing to be nicely cut, well made and of good, enduring quality and style for years. I continue to find it so. It is conservative and in fine taste - most of the time. I mostly wear casual clothing, but when a suit is required I still have my old stand by Brooks Brothers suits and blazer standing for ready wear. I don't however wear BB shirts anymore as I have discovered Paul Frederick's Menswear. Their shirt are every bit as good as BB and at half the price. No reason to continue to shop BB and their inflated prices and newly discovered odd styling. Who is their target audience today anyway? It isn't me - and I grew up on it as was introduced to it by my father who only wore BB shirts and ties, buying his suits from a tailor custom made. BB is a shadow of its former self and LE, LL Bean and Eddie Bauer have come to take its place, providing good, enduring quality and timeless traditional clothing at a good price.

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