27 August 2009

A Necktie at the Playground

As you may know, I spend the vast majority of my time in the company of my two small children, which means I am a fixture at the local playgrounds. But that's no good reason not to dress like a man...besides, Summer is winding down and I had this killing vintage madras tie that needed an airing before going into storage:

These days, people want to know "why are you so dressed up?" when they see an outfit like this, but to my mind, this outfit is nothing more than a gentleman's casual, just this side of rakish.
To wit, the excessively frayed shirt collar, tie worn intentionally loose,

and rolled khakis, sockless (of course) with navy blue Sperry sneakers.

But the tie is the thing here. Real bleeding Indian madras (which seems to be all over the menswear bloggy charts lately(see here, and here)...call me a sheep)). A vintage, square-ended relic from Rooster. I invite the older of my readers to share reminiscences of Rooster clothing.

From a place called "Town & Tweed Shop" in Lynn, Massachusetts. Sounds like my kind of store, although its hard to believe Lynn ever was home to such a place. If you're local, you know what I mean, if not, take my word for it. There's a silly poem around that starts "Lynn, Lynn, city of sin..." You get the idea.
The things you can find for a buck.

20 August 2009

A Quick Fix

If you've read this blog before, you probably know by now that I often stress the importance of proper tailoring for most men's clothes, be they purchased on thrift or at full whack. It's a shame more men don't consider the fact that clothes don't have to fit perfectly when you get them, so long as they can be made to fit you later. You may also know that I'm a big fan of being resourceful and learning to do things for yourself. Does this mean I'm planning to alter a sports coat any time soon? Probably not. But a simple thing like cuffing pants is something any guy can do in ten minutes with a needle and thread and an iron. I've bought a lot of pants that were about an inch too long, and since I prefer a cuff anyway, it's a good skill to have. The quickest of sartorial fixes:

Here we have s pair of navy cotton pants, flat front, in a fabric that's woven almost like hopsack from boutique Italian maker Etro. I paid $4.99 for them. While I couldn't find a price for these exact pants, Bergdorf Goodman is selling their jeans and polos for a lot more than that. But alas, they are a little long...well not really, but I like my Summer pants on the slightly high-water side.

A look at the hems reveals a good two inches of cloth inside. Perfect. This means home made cuffs will be quick and easy. Take a look at a pair of professionally cuffed pants. You'll notice that the cuffs are just pressed in place and tack stitched on each side at the seam. Nothing to it, really.

Just flip up the bottoms, making sure to keep a straight line, and press with plenty of steam. Take time to ensure that both legs are the same length, then throw in a few stitches at the sides.

Voila! The finished product is perfectly incorrect, a full inch too short at least, just how I like 'em for bare feet and dress shoes.

add a muted madras jacket (also slightly tweaked), white tennis shirt...

and of course, a surcingle belt with fishing paraphernalia embroidered on it (Brooks Brothers, $0.99) , and you've got a polished but laid back look that demands a fresh gin & tonic. Can it really be true that there was a time when such an outfit was not considered "dressed up"? I wish.

Remember, thrift clothes can be altered and tweaked the same as new ones. In fact, its almost better if they are, because by changing them in even the slightest ways you transform them from somebody else's clothes to your clothes.

p.s. where the hell is HTJ?

17 August 2009

Making The Best of a Bad Time

Sartorially speaking, the 1970's are nearly universally regarded as a disaster best forgotten by any and all who experienced it. Just look at this recent post by our man Tin Tin. But in order to work the world of thrift stores to their fullest extent, one must develop a skill for spotting the gems among the junk, and nowhere is this truer than with men's clothing, much of which includes at least some percentage of (gasp!) polyester. Of course, I know there are those of you who will wail and gnash your teeth at the very thought of it, but remember that good old J. Press and Brooks Brothers carried plenty of blended cloth back in the days. (J. Press tropicals and "Brookscloth" come to mind, not to mention the now-classic poplin suit.) It's all about integration, proportion, and of course, style.

Take for instance this:

These pants, recently purchased for $5.49, the cloth is seersucker, but with really narrow stripes, almost like pincord. They're certainly not all cotton, which really is a shame with seersucker, my guess is maybe 60%cotton/40% polyester. But the cut of them is trim and sharp, no egregious wide legs. They have no label at all, which leads me to believe they're half of a suit.

This weird Lacoste tennis shirt, with a pocket and plain (i.e. not banded) sleeves, in the palest shade of yellow known to man...

...coton/poly blend. Made in U.S.A., which is good, except that Lacoste shirts are supposed to be made in France. Free from ebay.

Off topic tangent: I get asked from time to time about my thoughts on ebay shopping. I hate it. This is the only item of clothing I have ever acquired that way. After winning the bid for five bucks, I promptly mailed the check. After a week, when it hadn't arrived. I left a negative comment about the seller, who was so desperate to have said comment removed that he sent me the shirt and my check back. Lucky me. A hell of a lot of trouble for what really is kind of a crappy shirt. Left a bad taste in my mouth. Besides, as far as I'm concerned, a computer auction is a poor substitute for the thrill of the hunt, and the avaricious euphoria of finding something and paying near nothing for it on the spot. Must the almost the same rush that keeps the criminals going. But I digress...

Anyway, add these less than spectacular and somewhat "grandpa driving a golf cart in palm beach" threads to a year round hopsack J.Press 3/2 navy blazer, possibly also a blend, possibly also seventies vintage, and everything works out fine: finish barefoot with boat shoes

and, as always, bring the whole thing alive with accessories. Lately I've been very happy with this particular paisley pocket square (heisted from dear old Dad 15 years ago):

and ribbon belt ( Polo, $0.99)

My point is, while polyester may be less than desirable, it's presence in a a garment needn't necessarily be a deal breaker. True, that thick, double knit, rubbery stuff is an abomination, but some of those cotton or wool blends ain't half bad when used with a clever eye. Remember, Clint Eastwood didn't look half bad in all those "Dirty Harry" flicks.
Dressing well is all about having an understanding of style, pattern, color and proportion, as well as some dash and a good deal of disregard for what the chumps will invariably say about you. If you don't get that, than the greatest tailor in Naples won't be able to help you, but if you do get it, really get it, you can practically pick your clothes out of the trash and knock 'em dead every time...or at least shop at the thrift store. It's amazing the things that most people throw away.

Style doesn't care about money.

p.s. a million points to Michael Williams at A Continuous Lean for giving Jack McCoy the credit he deserves. I always thought that dude dressed well...he's got Mike Cutter beat by a mile.

15 August 2009

Mad For Plaid, part 3

With only a few weeks left to wear it, and after the immense trouble I undertook on it's odor removal, the blue bleeding madras finally makes it out in public:

Vintage nameless madras sport coat, $7.99, Brooks Brothers white oxford button down, $4.99, navy cotton knit tie, $0.99, grey "year round" wool slacks from the Harvard Coop, $3.99

Finished with bare feet in penny loafers. Perfectly dressed on a steaming hot evening in August.

Accessorized with two carry cases full of vinyl records, as the evenings activities involved tag-team disc jockeying with Kid Brother at a cozy little local watering hole. They don't pay, but dinner and drinks are on the house . So after salmon cakes with fried potatoes and a bitter green salad, I spent a fair amount of time behind this:

(on the left, Curtis Mayfield, on the right, Wilson Pickett)

interspersed with cold glasses of Campari and soda, and conversation with old friends who I don't see often enough. Many compliments on the plaid. Perfect.

A big bold plaid like this can be tough to pull off, but the old rule of "keep it simple", as usual, applies. Sure, when I was laying out my stuff I tried this jacket with patterned ties (too busy), striped shirts (way too busy), and even bow ties (too 1950's dork costume-y). But in the end I always knew that strong solid colored items, punched up just a touch by the lack of socks and the texture of the knit tie, were the only way to go.

I hope I get at least one more chance to were this jacket before the summers out, but at this point that's doubtful. I'd like to wear it with a tennis shirt, canvas shoes and khakis next time.

11 August 2009

House and Home- The Drunkard's Pair

We have a lot of single nice drinking glasses at the house. Most of them began their lives as sets, or at least pairs, but due to clumsiness have wound up solo. The clumsiness is frequently mine, but since I usually commit it in the act of washing dishes, we'll chalk it up to a charming character flaw. As usual, thrift shopping plays a role, because it's never that heartbreaking to lose something that cost less than a buck.

Here are some of my favorites:
A nice ten ounce highball glass. I bought two of these, $0.59 each. No great loss, but I do miss heading out to the back yard on a hot day with a pair of icy cold rum lemonades for the Mrs. and myself in matching glassware.This one I actually bought solo, but I suspect it had three siblings and a matching pitcher once upon a time. It's a small one, only about six ounces. Filled to the black line it's my favorite glass for cheap Italian wine, while the orange line represents the perfect measure for an occasional whiskey. Sometimes Mrs. G. lets the boy drink juice out of this glass in the morning, and I resist the urge to get all possessive about "Daddy's cup". Makes me want to keep it on top of the fridge, unwashed except for being wiped with a paper towel, next to a half gallon of Seagram's V.O.
I think we had four of these once. I can't remember, but I'm pretty sure they all had different birds on them. No matter, the one survivor bears the Sphyrapicus Varius, or Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker, which makes this also an excellent whiskey cup.And after a night of drinking like a sphyrapicus varius, you'll need something to drink your coffee from. We had four of these once, too. That indentation at the bottom was the perfect line to fill the cup with milk and sugar, then coffee to the top.

It's a good thing we have small kids, and as such are not in the habit of having guests in the evening for cocktails. Really, the horror of something so gauche as unmatched glassware is more than any respectable host could bear!

In the old days, when I worked in a junk shop (not a thrift store, a downright junk shop) we were always getting three of things. Some people would only buy two, but I always bought all three. I called it a "drunkard's pair", because you could get drunk and break one and still have a set.

Now if only I could come up with a clever name for the last glass standing.


08 August 2009

Cheap Commodities, part 3

Summer may be ending soon, but a bargain is a bargain. In an earlier post, I spoke at length about tennis shirts as one of a handful of items that, though essential in the warmer months, are best bought cheaply. The years first batch, purchased new, were in the basic colors: navy, white, pink and brown. A recent second batch found it's way to me, in brighter, less standard colors: A pair of Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece tennis shirts, in royal blue and magenta, complete with the embroidered "Golden Fleece logo:Old enough to have been made in the U.S.A. ( does Brooks Brothers have anything made here anymore? aren't they supposed to be some kind of bench mark of American tailoring and style?)

$4.00 each. Not to worry, though. You can get new one's on sale at their website, 2 for $89.(shameless thrift junky gloating...)

And a third, in "plum", for $4.99:This one must be an antique. When was the last time old Ralphie had something as mundane as his now iconic tennis shirt made by Americans?I'm glad to have these. In the warm and casual days spent at the playground sans-necktie, I find that there's no such thing as too many tennis shirts, or chinos of every color, for that matter.

Maybe I should take all the money I save thrift shopping and buy a boat, and start referring to Mrs. G. as "Lovey". A fella can dream, can't he?

06 August 2009

The Jams

As recently promised, a long winded installment of "The Jams".

The "Rock and Roll Yard Sale" was a success. The kids behaved themselves, the behavior of the hipsters gave me a good couple of laughs, I ran into some old friends, and I went home with nine new records. Given more time and money, the damage could have been much worse. I saw a great deal of fancy, rare and immensely desirable records, And then I found the guy who was selling everything $3 each, four for $10. I love that guy. I only made it about halfway through his stock, and still I acquired much. I apologize if it took me a little too long to report my results, but I needed time to soak these all in.

Record shopping is often about guessing well, knowing how to tell a good record you've never heard from a bad one.

Let's start with the safe bets. Two by the Ahmad Jamal trio, the first one, "Count 'em 88" a nice thick old slab from the late fifties. I've got a bunch of his records, and they never fail. While not necessarily what you might call the "Blazing Jams", Jamal's piano always makes for pleasant listening while reading at night, or perhaps as a back drop to the sparkling conversation at the cocktail parties I would host if I didn't have kids. Not bad.

Next, a double disc set of Clifford Brown. A little more rambunctious than Ahmad Jamal. I actually discovered ole Clifford years ago by way of the song "I Remember Clifford", a Lee Morgan tune played by the rare 1958 line-up of the Jazz Messengers. Back then, I figured if Art Blakey liked the guy so much, there had to be something to it. Art was right, dudes hot.

Then we have a couple of drum-dork records. They're actually both a little weak, but as a drummer myself, I tend to get sucker-punched by Buddy and Gene occasionally. At least the Buddy Rich one has those spectacular marine pearl Slingerland music stands to match the drum set in the cover photo.

Every now and again, I gotta hand it to the free love crowd. Marianne Faithfull made some really good, really weird records early in her career. The songs on this record are almost throw-away girl pop. But Marianne's somehow spooky vibrato, coupled with a layer of harp and cello on top of the gently rocking, if somewhat standard, playing of the rhythm section turn this one into an eerie and mildly psychedelic experience. Right on.

How can you not by a record with a cover like that? Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes, Ron Carter on bass...neither a bad sign in 1969. I imagine this was a sexy date record in the swinging bachelor pads of 40 years ago. Goes well with Courvoisier served in a snifter of tacky proportions.

Here's one for the dancers among you. Ike and Tina kill me every time. It doesn't get better than this, and if you don't understand, than the attempts of an Italian kid who likes to wear pink pants won't help you "get it". Ike may not have been the nicest guy in the world, but dude could make a record. And Tina is "off the hook", as the kids were saying a mere few years ago.

Last, but far from least, one of those gate fold cover, over-the-top production, sex funk masterpieces that Isaac Hayes was constantly churning out in the seventies. These records are great, but I'll listen to this one rarely, because frankly, though my kids may be to young to know, the downright dirty/sexy nature of these records makes me fell a bit embarrassed. It's also what attracts me to them. But what do you want from me, I grew up Catholic.

Total haul for $23. Go find me twenty-three 99 cent downloads on i-tunes that can compare to any of these records (o.k. maybe not the Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa) as heard by way of diamond tipped stylus and wooden speakers. I dare you.

03 August 2009

The Pulitzer Prize

...Lilly, that is. (or a reasonable knock-off thereof):

Polo chinos, $14.99, Land's End tennis shirt, $15, gap ribbon belt, $0.99. Admittedly a bit pricey by my own standards, but such is the price one must pay to be the original owner of things.

Admittedly, this pink and green ensemble may be a bit ostentatious outside of the yacht club or golf course. But with only a scant month left till Rule Changing Day (Labor Day) I've got to get as much wear as I can out of this crazy stuff before grey and brown become the order of the day for the next 3/4 of the year.

Those green pants were downright electric when I bought them. Two summers and a million washes later, and I think they're fading quite nicely. Another ten years and they'll be dead perfect.

p.s. matches perfectly with Old Lady Soda.

01 August 2009

The Business

Whenever I have to appear professional and polished, I invariably grab my navy suit and a red tie. What with menswear being known for it's general lack of change and variety, it's a fail safe combination. Who wouldn't hire me looking like this? I wore this outfit to an open interview (read: begging) session for a the position of beverage director (read: guy in charge of the booze) at a local luxury hotel.Outfits and situations like this are all about looking sharp without rocking the boat. Save that for later when they know you're indispensable. As anyone who reads this blog can guess, I revel in the attention of moderate dandyism, but there are times when everything must be kept in check. Normally I'd have gone for a white shirt, but all my clean ones had button down collars, so I stuck with a blue point collar. I probably shouldn't even have worn the white square, but I felt unfinished without it, couldn't help it.Generally speaking, I'm a brown shoes kind of guy. My favorite shoes to wear with this suit are my double soled brown longwings, but nothing says "business" like a navy suit and black cap toes. Good thing I recently picked up this pair of Hanovers (remember those?) for $7.99.Then, yesterday, these Florsheims came along, also $7.99. If only I'd had them three days ago, they would have really been perfect....Maybe not, lace-ups are way less affected, I suppose.

I've heard it said that any guy looks good in a suit. I think this is only true if you are comfortable in it, or at least can fake it well. That day it was about a million degrees outside, a million percent humidity. I nearly died in this outfit. Just beyond the opening of my jacket, my shirt was completely drenched. But I never took off my jacket, and I never loosened my tie, not even on the way home. Dudes are always complaining about the discomfort of dress clothes, but I say button up, tuck in, man up and discreetly sneak off to dab the sweat from your brow occasionally. That being said, it's nice to live in a time where tennis shirts and shorts are acceptable city wear. Suits are pretty cool, but then again so is not passing out from heat stroke.

p.s. this afternoon kid brother and I, along with the children, will be attending something called the "Rock and Roll Yard Sale"...sort of like a farmers market, but with records. If all goes well, I expect my next post to be a long winded installment of the sub-series "The Jams".