31 May 2010

Happy Memorial Day

I've been meaning to feature this gaudy wonder for three Summers now.
1960s vintage, right down to the grease stains. Once again, the generous gift of Mrs. G., well back in the pre-Mrs. G. days.
What could be more patriotic (for an American savage such as yours truly) that a shirt covered in steak and onions rendered in good old red-white-and-blue?

Here's hoping your holiday was filled with warm weather and cheeseburgers.

29 May 2010


Where's my sailboat? Perhaps in another life (sigh..)
Boston has reached the point of nearly hot weather. I say nearly because lately we've been perfect. Warm and sunny enough to make everyone all happy, enough to sweat a bit, but not so uncomfortable as to make a blazer a self inflicted torture.

I don't have a sailboat, or a beach house. I likely never will. However, I'm more than willing to use the fact that I was born in raised in Boston, a coastal city with both a sea-faring and Ivy League tradition, as a license to push the nautical/gth aesthetic to the hilt come Summer.

Rip me all you want about my baseball cap. Until this year, I too was staunchly anti ball cap and sports jacket. But I dig this cap, it's pretty sharp, and as such I've changed my mind. Style and rigid inflexibility rarely play well together.

As is usually the case in menswear, the real story is in the fine print, the little details. Take for example my pocket square. The life of a thrifty cheapskate makes a man resourceful. That square is actually a piece of cloth cut from an old worn out shirt. Who needs to pay money for a cotton Summer square in navy and white gingham, anyway?

A vintage 1980s Lacoste belt, the generous gift of Mrs. G. a few years back. I'm not generally a fan of brand logos, but this belt gets a pass. Stretch ribbon with navy blue leather and a brass buckle, made in France. What else is a fella gonna use to hold up his patch madras trews? Really...

Finished with faded navy blue Sperry sneakers, also the generous gift of Mrs. G. Socks, of course, would be downright abhorrent under the circumstances.

So, who wants to invite me on to the yacht for gin and tonic? One at a time, please.


27 May 2010

Know Your History; Keep It Fresh

Before we begin this post, allow me a brief disclaimer: An Affordable Wardrobe is strictly a one man operation. I act as author, editor, photographer, and model, wearing my own clothing. A slight air of vanity is sometimes unavoidable in presenting my point.

People often say that menswear doesn't change all that much. There's truth to that, but it isn't entirely so. The well educated (ne, obsessed) in these matters can always date a piece of menswear with reasonable accuracy. A healthy knowledge of the history of these things can be a helpful guide to dressing well. When scouring other peoples cast off garments in thrift shops, it becomes a downright necessity. The trick lies is knowing the history of a piece of clothing, taking something personally from that, and using the garment and your knowledge in a way that is personal and unique, so as to to avoid anachronistic costume dressing.

Today's example is this tan poplin suit from Brooks Brothers, a historic icon in many ways. Brooks Brothers led the way in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the development of lightweight summer suiting fabrics for men. In 1958, the Du Pont company famously approached Brooks with their new "Dacron Polyester", and Brooks Brothers introduced it, blended with cotton, in suits and shirts. I know, we all hate polyester. But this old suit is different. I remember selling poplin suits at Simon's, in tan, olive and navy. We called them 'paper suits', because they wore like a brown shopping bag. But this old number is soft and comfortable. You can tell Du Pont was making a real effort back then to assure people that plastic was a reasonable thing to wear. Don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of the old synthetics, but I do like this suit. Besides, it cost $1.00. (Yes, it did.)
If you need further convincing, note the styling. That open patch breast pocket and 1/8 lining speak volumes to me. Coupled with the classic Brooks soft shouldered silhouette and lapped seams, they relegate this suit to a level of of casual-ness that it depends on to come off well. Besides being stiff and uncomfortable, those poplins I sold in the 90s were darted and cut like a business suit. That was their un-doing.

University Shop. This suit is not for the office, it's for casual situations, such as a college man might find himself in between semesters. Our collective concept of casual didn't always mean wearing pyjamas and underwear in public. I think this suit is pretty nearly an original poplin suit. Possibly late 50s, certainly no later than early 60s.
Wash and Wear... a decidedly 1958 selling point. However, this doesn't have to be strictly a costume piece.
Taken together with a blue striped contrast collar Brooks Brothers shirt (1980s vintage,$4.99), a black cotton knit tie (new, $5.00), a white silk driving cap by Stetson( bought new a few years ago, $12), and an orange square, you know, for punch, the whole thing has a whiff of the 1920s about it. Hows that for a conglomeration of historical influences?
To me, this club collar seals the deal. It's a proper club collar, short and round. I wish I saw more of these.

Below, we keep the whole look in the modern world with dark jeans and ever-just-so-tatters brown loafers.

Knowing something about men's styles of the 20s, 50s, 60s and today all contributed to the outfit I wore today. As I've said innumerable times, successful thrift shopping is a perseverance game. Wearing these clothes successfully requires an ability to both collect and arrange seemingly disparate items, while still imparting your own personality onto the result. A pain in the *ss? Yeah, maybe, but I think it's worth it.

Then again, I am a little weird.

23 May 2010

Massachusetts Moccasins

You all know that I'm a cheapskate. I hate buying new things, and I hate to spend a lot of money for junk. However, I will but new things when they're worth it. I have no problem at all paying for quality and craftsmanship when I have few extra bucks. So, feeling flush after the success of the Top Shelf Flea, I decided to replace my ailing Sebago Campsides. I considered a new pair of Sebagos, I thought about the premium priced Quoddy, but I decided on Arrow Moccasins.

Arrow Moccasin Company has been in business in the same place in Hudson, Massachusetts since 1965. Founded by Ron Ouellette, and now run by his son Paul, Arrow is about as real a product as a person can reasonably get in America these days. Just shy of three weeks ago, I ordered a pair. But rather than have them shipped, I asked Paul if I could come pick them up, maybe chat and take a few pictures of the operation. He graciously granted me access, and offered a tour and a some friendly conversation.

Arrow uses only English tanned Swiss cow hides. Here's a stack of them waiting to be cut and made into moccasins. These things are as thick as your thumb and super heavy. This leather is some serious stuff, and one look will make all of your other shoes seem just a little crappy.

Here we see a rack of various styles in near completion, awaiting final stitching and a double sole.

There are shoe-lasts everywhere in this place...

all pretty old by the look of them.

The retail shop is right next to the work shop, separated only by a door. The heady smell of fresh leather hangs heavy in the air. New pairs of Arrow's signature styles hang from hooks by their laces against a wall, while leather vests hang form the ceiling.

Paul tells me that he advertises in Muzzle Loader magazine. A big chunk of his business comes from historical re-enactment buffs. They tend to prefer these very native styles, something Paul says "may seem a little weird to some people". True, I'm not about to delve into the world of hardcore native American footwear, but the only thing weird about a guy making these kind of things by hand is the fact that anyone thinks its weird in the first place.

Sitting on a table in the workshop, I spied this old pair. Paul estimates this pair to be between eight and twelve years old. He had just resoled them and was getting them ready to ship back. Just drool over the patina these treads have developed. Chinese made L.L.Bean be damned, this is a real pair of canoe mocs.

As for myself, I chose the Two Eye Moc. It's the perfect hybrid between a 'boat shoe' and a 'blucher moc'. It's better than either of those because it's 100% hand made in Massachusetts, using only leather and thread.

I tried them on in the shop, and kept them on all day from then on. Believe me when I tell you I have never worn a more comfortable shoe. Paul tells me they conform to the wearers foot over time, which means they will only continue to astonish me with how comfortable they become. Sure, they may be more than a little 'hippie' in style, but they're also pretty damn sharp. I can't imagine a better shoe to wear with shorts.

I picked up a can of mink oil while I was there, and Paul gave me a scrap of sheep skin to clean them with. Keeping them soft and oiling them occasionally should help them last for many years.

Arrow Moccasin Company was started by Paul's dad Ron in 1965. After having spent some years as the boot maker at Olde Sturbridge Village in the fifties, Ron decide to strike out on his own. Since then, Arrow has been providing moccasins derived directly of a native American heritage that are stylish and wearable to this day. Each pair is made completely by hand, by Paul or one of his 'elves' who help out during the week. The leather is cut by hand, and then sewn using an awl and a thick needle. My double soled mocs cost $131, short money for handmade quality. They also will resole any of their shoes, for about $58. It's a service Paul estimates is needed every five years or so.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Arrow moccasins are very popular in Japan. They do love their Americana and I guess it doesn't get much more 'authentic' than this. Paul was perhaps a bit apologetic at taking two and a half weeks to complete my pair, but, as he said, 'it's tough to keep up when you're making every pair in the world yourself.' He seemed a bit surprised when I told him that Quoddy took months to fill an order.

In closing, An Affordable Wardrobe highly recommends Arrow Moccasins. After all, if you're going to drop some scratch on new products, better make it count.

As a side note, the Town of Hudson is a sleepy little place just off I-495 filled with 19th century architectural gems, like the town hall seen here, and a number of excellent Victorian houses. If that's your bag, drive up and grab your shoes in person. About 45 minutes from Boston, and well worth the trip,

20 May 2010

The Jams (shhh...it's a secret)

Yesterday I got an email from the Used Book Superstore announcing that records were 50 cents each. Seriously, if you live around here and you like to read and you haven't been to the Superstore, I feel sorry for you. Anyway, I picked up sixteen new/old slabs of wax, but this one alone was well worth the $8.00 I spent:

There's little doubt in my ind that Sammy was the gem of the Rat Pack. Forgive me, Frankie and Dino, but Sammy was the Jam. What could be better? How about if he was backed by the Buddy Rich band of 1966? C'mon, seriously...

As if that weren't enough, how about we record it live in Vegas? Musically, this record is great, high rollin' Vegas swing at its best. But more than that, it's a stunning snapshot of a much-mythologized moment in American history. Guys like Michael Buble may think they can still do this sort of thing now, but they can't. Why? Because they ain't Sammy, Buddy ain't playing the drums, and 1966 was a long time ago. That may be a vague and somewhat lame explanation, but I just don't know how else to put it, dig?

A while back, I was in this sort of far-out, avant garde art band. We wore nice clothes, and played the best vintage gear. Our songs were written with a real love and knowledge of the best of what had come before us. But it was our mission to get loud and 'savage your face', as we used to say. We also liked to pull weird p.r. stunts. One of our favorites was the 'secret show'. We would invite a select group to our tiny, stinky, but oh-so-hip practice space, usually late night after some other cool public happening, and rip it up. People would practically be on top of us, smoking and drinking. It was great, and I count those among the best performances of my musical life.

Seems Sammy had the same idea. From the liner notes:

Can you imagine, a band like this at the Sands lounge, the small, intimate room, starting at 2:30 in the morning? Las Vegas just ain't what she used to be. That after hours crowd was no doubt full of evening gowns and tuxedos, the room stinky of regular Scotch, no fancy mamby pamby single malts, just J&B, or even Ballantine's Finest, and smoke, no fancy mamby pamby cigars, just Lucky Strikes, Camels ( the knid with no filters), and L&Ms (for the ladies). Apparently, they even had the same idea about 'savaging faces' that we had. Again from the liner notes:

The moment of peak action?!?! These days you can't buy a phrase like that. Best part is, the record is as hot as it looks. Swinging Vegas turns costume cliche real quick, but not when its this good. I think this recording offers a real glimpse of what it was like. No string sections, no slick production, just a hot band bashing out the tunes, Sammy Davis gettin' dirty, and a room full of well dressed, high ticket drunks in the small hours. Historic, and highly recommended...if you can find it. Good luck.

I leave you with this. At least ten years later and clad in polyester, but seriously, these two are an unstoppable force together:

p.s. what ever happened to showmanship?

16 May 2010


Man, I really wish I would wind up getting invited to a formal event, preferably in the house of someone stylish where the company, music and booze are all top notch. Sadly, I doubt I'll ever wear a tux. Doesn't stop me from occasionally purchasing unusual pieces of formal wear:

Dig that shirt! You know me and my shirt/aberrations...can't help myself. I'm picturing this one under a black velvet jacket with grosgrain facing on the lapels.

I, like many of you, am pretty entrenched in the anti-wing collar field, but I'd make an exception in this case.

Oh well, it's too big for me anyway. Therefore, look for it at Top Shelf Flea Market II in the Autumn. That is, unless Tin Tin admits that his similar shirt is too small for him and agrees to a trade. Maybe then I'll just throw the damn party myself.

13 May 2010

Cherry Picking (or, putting together the cherries you pick)

I think I did a post like this a while back called "A Confluence of Styles", or something. Forgive me if I'm repeating myself. You all know that I firmly believe that dressing well has little or nothing to do with money. I also firmly believe that aligning oneself to tightly with any given set of rules is detrimental to the elusive thing called 'style'. My point? There's no good reason not to 'cherry pick' from all things good, and bring your choices all together creatively. Cheap can live with expensive, old can live with new, and so forth...
Here is a old 3/2 sack blazer from J.Press in classic navy blue hopsack. I bought it for $7.49, but I've owned it so long and worn it so much that it's worth can no longer be calculated in dollars. A shirt (perhaps something of an aberration according to many of you) that I had made, the courteous gift of Deo Veritas. Say what you will, but I'm really digging the contrast button down, more and more every time I wear it. For some reason, I can't see it working with anything other that a blue and white pattern on the shirt. ADG has a similar shirt in blue with white stripes, and even Tin Tin told in person that it's "not that bad". From him, I call that a compliment. Seal the deal with a no name silk ascot picked up last week for $1.99 at an undisclosed thrift.
While we're on the subject of the shirt/aberration, I've recently decided that the best way to tame the admittedly somewhat ridiculous three button angled contrast cuffs is to wear them so, buttoned only in the middle. Flashy and ostentatious? Probably, but it's kind of like leaving a button or two open on your jacket cuff just to be a show of about the fact that you had it made. Sue me.
The real story here resides below, in my new favorite shoes. Perhaps also something of an aberration. Brown tassel loafers by Bostonian, USA made, in a lovely shade of chestnut belied by the poor quality of my photography. Khakis and my favorite yellow socks. Lets leave the shoes for a moment and go off on a tangent.

That is indeed a hard crease in my khakis. It's an issue I've been know to waffle on. Until recently, I was staunchly in the "don't even iron your khakis" camp. Then I had this pair and one other shortened by Mr. Lee, and he handed them back to me dry-cleaner sharp, crispy like, and I thought maybe I like this, kinda dress, looks good with a blazer. Khakis are military in origin after all, and do lend themselves to a nice crease. Now I compromise. I have two pair that I crease, and three pair that I wear straight out of the wash. But I digress. Originally from J.Crew, I of course purchased this pair second hand for a ghastly $4.99.

Back to the treads. Take a look at the toe. Instead of the standard moccasin toe stitching, we have this single row of brogue-ing. A small touch, but damned distinctive. I think that, plus the light, casual color give these loafers a certain 1930s vibe. Not bad for $7.99

Truth be told, these shoes are actually a half size larger than I normally wear. But thrift shopping makes a man crafty. A new pair of good old Dr. Scholl's inserts takes up the extra room, and makes them more comfortable besides.

The moral of the story? Good stuff goes with good stuff. All you have to do is know good stuff when you see it.

11 May 2010

Dungarees ( a less-than-brief update)

So just the other day I posted a very brief update of the wash/wear status of my Wranglers, Commenter ckarlof called me out for not offering any truly representative photographs. What can I say, the man had a point. And so I lined up a more in depth post in the cue., waiting for it's moment. Then today, Fate compelled me .....
Here are a pair of my Wranglers, fresh from the wash. The color has gone from grayish/navy/ indigo denim to a brighter shade of blue, on its way to the impossibly perfect light blue. Things of note: baggy knees tend to back off with washing,and, lately I've been digging the short tight skinhead style cuff...don't know why, but right now I like it...
The seat and hip pockets are holding up/wearing out just about so...

...and the front is creasing up just so. Notice how the back of the waistband rides higher than the front? That's so your jeans hang straight while you're in the saddle. That's also the reason for the extra belt loops and the flat rivets (so as not to scratch your saddle). French brands, Gap et. al step away...Wranglers are real.

All in all, not bad with an 80s vintage 'Rugger' rugby shirt and some top siders. So, what compelled me to write this? I did say I was 'compelled' didn't I...

While out with the children in the above outfit, I stopped by the wine shop where I work from some adult beverages. While I was paying, I was approached by a sort of Euro looking fellow... groomed beard, highly tailored sports jacket, fancy jeans, etc. He asked " are those Wranglers you're wearing"...kind of surprised-like.

"Sure they are", says I..."Can I take your picture", says he, "my wife is a jeans designer. People pay $300 for her jeans. I can't believe it. I keep telling her that guys still wear Levi's and Wrangler. Now I have proof."

Says I "what's you wife's brand. Maybe I've heard of them,"

Says he"True Religion, ever heard of 'em?"

Yikes! For real...

10 May 2010

Trans Continental Thrift Shopping

Back when I started this blog, I had no idea that I would wind up making so many "imaginary" friends...you know, the kind you sort of know, but they live God-knows-where and you'll likely never meet. Dorky, maybe, but so be it.

Back around Christmas time, frequent commenter "Young Fogey" and I worked a trans-continental trade of epic proportions, resulting in my ownership of a head-to-toe suit in Black Watch flannel. The Fogey has an eye for the Tartan, it turns out, even if it may be a bit wild for his own taste. So today, this box shows up at my house:
Inside, I find this stunner. Plaid this big, and so much of it, may not be for a lot of guys, but I absolutely love this thing, brass buttons and all. It actually reminds me a little bit of the jacket I'm wearing in my profile photo, all those years ago. Good thing the Fogey lives where it's generally too warm for these things, and he's smaller than me, and he's not down with that much plaid.
Open patch pockets, excellent pattern matching,

Side vents, again excellent pattern matching, and a very British bit of waist suppression,

Best of all, the label. Not only is it from the same Bermuda store as the super red shorts I recently acquired, but it was made by London tailors Alexandre, then of Oxford Street, now of Savile Row. Yikes! That sure is some nice wool. Can't wait till next Fall to wear it (although, with temps in Boston currently hovering around 50 with gusting winds, it might come out tomorrow).

Grazie Mille, Fogey. I really owe you one. My eyes are wide open for odd vests that are to short for me.

08 May 2010

Dungarees ( a brief update)

After reading a recent post on the progress of someones jeans, I realized a little update on the status of the Wrangler's I bought a while back might be in order.
I wear these jeans fairly regularly, though not nearly as much as I used to. In the old days, I wore jeans pretty much exclusively. I wash them after about every fourth or when I spill something on them. I turn them inside out, and use Woolite for dark colors in cold water. So far, they've remained fairly dark, and they're wearing out just right. Note the faint mark left by my wallet on the back pocket. I hang them dry, so there's been no shrinking, and they've been conforming to my shape quite well too.

They did require some editing, though. The old brown patch on the back pocket is made of plastic, not leather like it used to be, so today I got out the seam ripper and removed those tags. No matter, I really don't need a sign on my but telling you what kind of jeans I'm wearing, and besides the "W" stitching on the pocket itself seems to be performing that function quite well. I am a bit surprised that I didn't think to do this straight off the bat, since I perform the same surgery on khakis when they have that annoying tag sewn on above the back pocket.

See, they look pretty good all clean. And for $20, the price is unbeatable. The site I bought them from, Shepler's, is a real pain about sending out way too many emails, but apparently these jeans, the 13MWZ Cowboy Jean, are constantly on sale for that price.

So, I wear cheap, clean jeans, that last pretty well, and that's as it should be. My mind is still boggled by the cult of expensive pants going unwashed for a year or more.

05 May 2010


For the last two Summers of this humble blogs existence, I've contemplated the inevitable post on shorts without bringing myself yet to write it... so here it is.

Shorts are a tough thing. Generally, I disdain them and the sloppy attitude they embody too often these days. But when the weather is warm, I wear them. Hypocritical? Well, maybe a little. I actually have quite a few pair, these newest acquired only yesterday:

$29.50 at the L.L. Bean retail store. Bought new? you ask...damn straight. After Top Shelf, I was feeling a tad bit flush in the wallet. Forgive me.

Now I know I'm usually a staunch proponent of knowing the rules if only to ignore them , but when it comes to shorts, all sorts of self imposed rules apply:

1) no t-shirts (actually, with the exception of the beach or the garden, this rule applies almost all of the time)

2) no socks (ever)

3) shorts should be just that:short. Just above the knee. Anything longer results in a mongrel garment that is neither pants nor shorts, but both, sort of. A truncated, ill-conceived bastard child of the garment industry. And those mid-calf capri things you sometimes see guys wearing?...don't get me started.

4) no pleats (no explanation necessary, I hope)

5) a collar on your shirt goes a long way to making a finished, gentlemanly look with shorts.

Today, I paired these with an old "Purist" oxford by Sero (r.i.p.)...un-iorned, of course, so as to maintain that casual edge:

side note: here's a little trick with the un-ironed oxford look. Throw the shirt into the dryer alone for a few minutes. It'll knock the wrinkles out just enough, while maintaining a slouchy vibe.
The end result looks like so. Boat shoes, of course, and a brown leather belt, because it really ain't Summer, so the ribbon stripes will have to wait.
Many hours later, with a pinch of chill in the air, a linen/silk/cotton sweater is far from out of place.

Wearing shorts need not mean that you're all sloppy and un-tucked. It is in fact possible to be put-together and dressed like an adult even in short pants. Ladies, tell your men...mothers, tell your sons. Comfort and style need not live on opposite poles.