30 August 2010

Sucker Punch (again)

Once again, I fall victim to the sucker punch that is the ol' Skull and Bones, this time in the guise of a pair of TOMS shoes for Rugby RL...a double whammy.

Admittedly, I'm as surprised as anyone how much I like these neo-Preppy pseudo-karate slippers...but I do. For me they're just the thing for padding around the house, like socks, only better, because they're kind of shoes, only they're not. To be quite honest, I usually putter around the house is the dreaded flip flops, so right away these are a vast improvement.
Dig 'em here with a pair of Reds. I know some of you will lynch me for this, but I'd even wear these sockless with black tie and a cream dinner jacket, at a beachside cocktail shindig. Don't worry, though, that ain't likely to happen any time soon.

For as much of a clotheshorse as I am, I've never been much of a loungewear guy. I often rail against guys who use their children as an excuse to be a slob, but when I'm at home, doing dishes and laundry and picking up toys, it's white t-shirts and grey running shorts, and now these. In winter, the shorts will be replaced by tartan flannel lounge pants. I can't be bothered with suits of pyjamas and all that jazz.

I'd love to own a cool pair of velvet slippers from Del Toro or Stubbs and Wootton, but the line needs to be drawn somewhere. Some things, cool as they may be, are really just far too precious, I think. These cloth sock/shoe things are comfortable as hell, and not half as prissy (forgive me).

TOMS makes these shoes proudly in China, and donates a pair for every one sold to a needy kid. What's wrong with that? True, I may have picked these up for $4.99 at the thrift, but I'm considering paying full freight for a secone pair in tartan plaid.

p.s. If you're consdiering these, they run small. I'm a size 10, but these are size 11, and they fit just right.

29 August 2010

Secrets of Thrifting

Good things often come in pairs:
Like these two made in USA blue Brooks Brothers button down oxfords, in my size, $9.98 for the pair.

In a down and dirty thrift store, if you find one Brooks Brothers shirt in your size, that obviously belonged to a guy who brought his shirts out to the cleaners every week, keep digging. Chances are there are more similar shirts in the same size, likely having belonged to the same fellow, who bought a dozen new in the 3 for $200 sale, then got rid of all those perfectly good old ones all in one fell swoop.

If you're especially lucky, his suits will be there too, also in your size.

26 August 2010

Non-Compulsory Suits

I like to dress well, but my life doesn't require it. Maybe it never will again, except for special occasions, but even that's up to fate. The way things are going, it's not inconceivable that when I die my Mass will be said by a priest in cut-off jeans and a t-shirt that says "I'm with stupid", or something. I likely won't ever have a job that calls for suits, given the fact that those that do, don't, not anymore. Now I could, and often do, bemoan our loss of what is becoming an antiquated manner of personal comportment. But today, I'll look to the bright side of the situation, because when a guy wears a suit because he wants to, not because he has to, he can do all sorts of fun and unconventional things to bring the stuffiness right out of it.
We had some dreary weather these last few days, and many people around these parts got to acting like Summer was closed for business. Then today it got all warm and sunny. I decided to trot out the old tan gabardine suit, realizing that this might be it's last run of the year. Paired here with a very conservative striped tie and foulard print square, but punched way up with a shirt in navy and white gingham. In the old days, when lots of jobs required suits, tan would have been pushing it, and the shirt would have been asking for it. But I'm only doing this for me, so have at it.
Every now and then I wear the blades of my ties slightly apart, like all them Italian cats on the Sartorialist, then hold them down with a tie clip. (that tie clip will have a solo post soon...it's a good one...). It's supposed to be all non-chalant, but of course it's totally on purpose. People say "do you know your tie is..." "Yes, I do. Don't worry about it." Affected? Damn right! But we peacocks and Italians are known for that, no?

And speaking of affected, how about bare ankles and tassels?...with a suit? Absolutely, if you want to, when you're wearing a suit for fun and not for rules. And yes, I know those shoes have been getting more than their fair share of play in the rotation, but they are comfortable. Best $3.49 I ever spent.

An English made tie, from the Andover Shop, $1,99

And would somebody please tell Brooks Brothers that well made shirts in "sports" patterns that are made in USA and come in a neck and sleeve length are the jam? Seriously, whens the last time you saw a shirt like this that wasn't sized S/M/L? Recently acquired on our vacation in Maine at thrift shop for $4.99.

My point is, those nice clothes you have that you never wear because you never have to? They ain't doing you or anybody else any good hanging in the closet all the time.
Wear 'em!
Because you want to...because you can. Together, we can make the Well Appointed Gentleman less of a "freak", and more of a role model. Who's with me?

25 August 2010

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow (a teaser for Top Shelf II)

A little while back, I acquired this lovely, shall we say, "country" suit. No, not "country" like embroidered rhinestone roses and such, but country in the English sense, like you wear a suit in the woods, but it's a different suit than you wear to the bank, or for an audience with Her Royal Majesty.

From a few feet back, it's light grey. Close up, it's a butter soft mini hounds tooth check, in heavy wool. Country all the way, my dear fellow.

From the legendary Oxxford Clothes of Chicago.

Four button surgeon cuffs...

check that interior construction. A separate pocket just for your pen!?!?

An Oxxford signature: the front of the trousers feature two deep pleats and a waist band...

the back has no waist band. C'mon, you know that's pretty damn cool.

Plus, there's a secret pocket hidden in the waist band. Just to push the "hand tailored" ness of this thing, one brace button is on the outside, the other on the inside of the secret pocket. Again, so cool.

I bought this suit for myself, but I don't really need it. Instead, it'll be up for grabs at Top Shelf Flea Market II in October.

I don't normally advocate the separation of suits, but...

See that jacket with grey flannels, a white shirt with French cuffs and a black knit tie.

See those pants with a cream colored cable knit sweater, a blue oxford and an ascot.

See the whole rig with a pink shirt and a wool challis tie in a large paisley print...

Damn, I may just keep the thing after all.....

23 August 2010

In Between

Boston saw some dreary, bleary rain today, on the cool side. Many bemoan such weather, but I don't mind it. It's "In Between" season. Still kinda Summer, but feeling a bit like Fall. I know, I should come up with a less childish term for it, but the term "shoulder season" grates my nerves, just like "odd jacket". Irrational maybe, but there you have it.

Anyway, I like dressing for the in-between. It can be challenging, but it can also provide a rare opportunity to experiment with mixing seemingly disparate sartorial elements.
Today's wind and rain prompted an unexpectedly early debut for the trusty Barbour jacket. Tweed caps and wide wale cords are a natural cinch with this one, but I think it comes off quite well with khaki, too.
Note the button closure here. I've actually intended to mention this before, but it keeps slipping through the cracks. When the rain is blowing, I close the zipper right up to the neck. When it's not, I prefer to close one snap in the middle, and wear it like a sports jacket. Affected as all Hell, but you gotta admit it's kinda cool.

I may be going out on a limb pairing bare ankles with Barbour, but I think that worked pretty well too. Forgive me, I'm just not ready for socks yet. A bit of Summer and a bit of Fall, an outfit in perfect harmony with the days weather.

21 August 2010

Breaking the Chain

I sometimes find myself of two minds on a given topic, but not often. Usually, I'm a gut-thinking reactionary sort, with a head full of concrete, a situation that is equal parts blessing and curse. So when my opinion is split, it's something of an occasion. Such is the case with the following.

I enjoy writing this blog. The connections I've made with so many of you, the friendships that have occurred, are an unexpected and rewarding side effect. So too are the offers of free goods. Occasionally, people want to give me stuff so I can write about it. When this happens, which isn't all that often, I have to assess the situation carefully. The last thing I want to do is sell myself out for some free swag, but I do like getting stuff. Until recently, these offers have come from small time businesses, people trying to bring back a little of what we've lost in the last 20 years or so. In the end, I've accepted their offers comfortable in my own mind that I hadn't sold out, that I really hadn't crossed the evil line. And then I was contacted by the Mens Wearhouse.

You know this guy, George Zimmer. He comes on t.v. and tells you with a voice full of cigarettes "You're gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it." That's all well and good, I suppose, but I already do like the way I look, no thanks to big chains stores effectively ending the existence of the local haberdasher. We'll all live to regret the way we've let this kind of rampant big box thinking take away the more esoteric connotations and emotions that were once attached to purchasing and owning things. I guarantee it. But I'm getting off track...

So a couple weeks ago I was contacted by a p.r. firm representing these guys. I get a lot of these emails where some search just plugs my name into the front of a form letter, but this one actually seemed to be written by someone who had read An Affordable Wardrobe and had some understanding of what goes on around here, so I wrote back. They offered me something they called a "$750 shopping experience", by which they meant that I would visit one of their locations to buy an outfit, a suit and maybe some other stuff, have it altered, and then get on the internet to tell you how nice the clothes are and how good the service is.

My gut reaction was to refuse, but there was a charity component involved. Seems Mens Wearhouse runs an annual thing called the 'National Suit Drive". The idea, ostensibly, is to help guys who are broke and out of work get suitable business clothes for job interviews. O.K., I guess I can get behind that. I'm all for helping out a poor slob. The idea is that you can donate your used business clothes at any Mens Wearhouse location, in return for a $25 coupon good in the store. See, there's the problem. You can also donate your used business clothes directly to the charities, such as Goodwill and Salvation Army, where these things will eventually end up anyway, without being pushed into spending your money at some big ugly chain store that got you by dangling some silly coupon in your face. Instead, you can just feel good for having done a good thing. I guarantee it.

Anyway, I just couldn't make up my mind. I might be the master of the $1 thrift score, but the idea of getting a brand new suit did have it's allure. I figured I could go in there and find the one suit worth owning. I figured I could work the angle that every guy isn't as blessed with thrift stores as I am, and it's useful to know how to work a store like this. I figured a lot of things in order to justify this deal to myself, but something was bugging me. I even called Tin Tin for advice. We talked for an hour, and he was kind enough to tell me something along the lines of "if anyone can pull this off, it's you." But it still felt wrong. I guarantee it.

But I said yes to the deal. As the tentative date of my appointment loomed, the plans suddenly fell through.Mrs. G. had already arranged to take the kids off my hands for the day, so I decided to case the joint instead. I figured they'd be on best behavior if they were expecting me, and I wanted to scope the scene. It turned out to be just as grim as I knew it would be. I walked into that fluorescent lighting, and stood on that ugly carpet. I stared at racks filled with flashy, pimped out suits.I didn't see one solid navy blue suit, they were all striped...and not even with white stripes, it was those shiny ones. The only grey suit I saw had peaked lapels on a single breasted jacket, stylish enough on the right guy, I guess, but it'll be dated in year or two. I guarantee it.

They don't sell navy blazers. They don't sell flat front grey pants. They don't sell argyle socks. They do carry suit by Joseph and Feiss, but they're ugly and made in Mexico. They do sell purple "dress" shirts, square toed "dress" shoes, and lots of Tommy Bahama. The sales staff, in their black triple pleated pants puddling around said square toed shoes shoes, would not be able to offer a man with my tastes much in the way of advice. I think they would have tried to tell me that pleats and wide legs were the only way to go, that the stuff I was looking for was out of date. I think they would have completely ignored the fact that I might have any idea about anything, would have tried to sell me a 42 regular, instead of a 40 short, would have tried to tell me that my pants needed to be three inches longer than I wear them, would have failed completely to assess the customer personally, instead following to the letter some training program written by our boy George Zimmer himself. I guarantee it.

I sat on writing this post for a week, because I wanted to be fair. I poked around a bit and found that the company is based on a business model that puts the employees first and the shareholders last, the idea being that if you take care of your employees, all that goodness will trickle down. Fair enough. But then I read a lot of customer reviews. They were split 50/50 between "eh, could be worse" and "I hate this f*ckin place". The good reviews were blase at best, but the bad ones all spoke at length about the terrible customer service. Taking care of the employees is a great idea, but I guess it only works if you actually do it. I guarantee it.

Then I was reminded that Mens Wearhouse and their ilk are responsible for ridding the city of Boston of the Holy Church of Filene's Basement and giving us a gaping hole in the ground in return, and that made me screaming mad. I guarantee it.

I've taken freebies from Deo Veritas and MTM shirt, both online made to measure outfits. In each case, I was approached by a small company looking to offer a fair service to interested gents, and they wanted my opinion. I let Ellie make me some bow ties, because she's a stay at home mom who sells hand made bow ties online. There was a directness and honesty about these people that I admired, and they turned out a good product to boot. I can get behind people like that with my principles in tact.

In the end I turned down Mens Wearhouse. In their case, I was approached by a young lady at a p.r. firm whose job it is to read blogs and hand out freebies. At first, I felt like hot stuff being approached by a big company. Then I remembered what a friend of mine who is actually a journalist said about bloggers, and how easy it is to buy them off since they don't operate in the same ethical circles, and I felt gross. Besides, all my thick, rolling button down collars and striped ties would have looked pretty silly under that shiny, peak-lapeled, nip waisted, side vented "designer" suit from China.

I guarantee it.

19 August 2010

Tables Turned

The once venerable Brooks Brothers has resorted to stealing concepts from Ralph.

See here, and here. (watch the videos...just be sure you're sitting down, first.)

?!?! And I thought Ralph was supposed to be stealing from them...and the English.

Sigh. (how the mighty have fallen...)

16 August 2010

A Call To Arms

The Second Semi-Annual Top Shelf Flea Market is fast upon us! The last one was a great success by all accounts. Many of the same vendors will be returning for round two, but we do have some spots available for newcomers. Additionally, we'll be having outdoor booths as well, weather permitting.

Our tentative date is Saturday 23 October. Anyone interested in the possibility of setting up shop can feel free to email me at anaffordablewardrobe@yahoo.com for details and pricing. Those of you interested in attending can look here for updates, or at the soon-to-be-revived sister blog for the Top Shelf Flea. I've put the link back up in the sidebar for future reference.

The more the merrier, say I, so answer this call to arms! Time is short, so act fast.

p.s. I'll be headed back up North for a spell tomorrow. New posting will resume by the end of the week. Cheers.

14 August 2010

Sibling Rivalry

What could be more intense than a sibling rivalry? In the end, what, too, could be more futile...
J.Press navy blazer, $7.49; Polo Ralph Lauren lavender university stripe oxford, $2.99; Gant necktie, $1.99; J.Crew khakis, $5.49; Walkover 'Worthmore' white bucks, $1.99; no-name silk square, argyle socks from Target, $14 haircut.
Big Brother is something of the house bully. He likes to go on about how he was there "in the old days", how he did everything "before it was cool". He likes to complain about how lame the younger kids are, especially his kid brothers, but he hates it even more when they behave a little too much like him. Mother tries to tell him that he can't have it both ways, and that his energy would be better spent in encouraging the young'uns, but mostly he doesn't want to hear it.

Middle Brother frequently finds himself at a loss. He's old enough now that Big Brother pretty much leaves him alone, but secretly he sympathises with Baby Brother. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that Big Brother and his friends were treating him like some presumptuous good-for-nothing punk. Mother knows full well that he's the peacemaker of the family, even if he doesn't fully realize it just yet.

Baby Brother's heart is probably in the right place, mostly, though he can be misdirected at times. Tired of Big Brother's constant complaining offset by Middle Brother's tacit agreement, he chooses to scream his presence, if a bit to his detriment. True, he does mostly copy Big Brother puppy dog fashion, but after all, ain't that want what Baby Brothers do best? Mother knows that he'd be better off to just calm down a bit, but he's young yet and still impetuous.

But they are, after all, brothers. And when they can stop screaming long enough, they do, in fact, play quite well together.
Even the cousins agree.

13 August 2010

Sucker Punch

I nearly had an opportunity to trot out the silken formal gear this evening, but alas, no dice. One of these days, I swear.Believe it or not, I had no black socks. I went out to get some, but I got sucker-punched:

I've done a pretty damn good job of avoiding the skull and bones thing these last few years. But really, don't you think these hose would be juts the right punch on a midnight blue tux?

Maybe my will was broken by spending a sunny afternoon with the children in a place like this:
by the sea, with cannon, and drippy granite tunnels.

'Cept we visited this place after I bought the socks. Dammit!

I guess I'l just have to blame it on the influence of too much Spongebob Squarepants.

11 August 2010

Green Grass, Blue Skies and...Duck Fat

My trip to the North country was nothing short of wonderful, a weekend filled with glorious weather, fine food, plenty of drink and gentlemanly haberdashery. And of course, a beautiful wedding between two wonderful people. Perfect.Seriously, if that setting isn't idyllic, I don't know what is. Abundant sunshine, 72 degrees. Can you think of better weather for wearing a suit outdoors?
The old Summer house belonging to the bride's parents. A great place to enjoy cold Cava and oysters on the porch before retiring to the party tent down the hill for dinner and dancing, or in my case, playing the music that the rest of the guests danced to. You see, the groom is a former band mate of mine, and he asked the boys and I to learn a few numbers suitable for the occasion. An honor indeed.

I'm fortunate to roll with a group of close compatriots who can more than hold their own in a sartorial throw-down. In case you don't believe me, just look at how well-turned-out these boys are:

Grey and white seersucker suit, the old kind with the really wide stripes, vintage 3/2 sack. Paired with a blue mini-check button down and a black silk knit tie.

Cotton khaki suit, French blue shirt and a cotton tie in red and white gingham check. Homeboy also sported navy and white striped braces and a Timex watch on a grosgrain ribbon band.

The prize goes to this chap. Brooks Brothers blue cotton chambray suit, 2 button sack, patch pockets, probably 1970s vintage. I actually found this one in a vintage shop, but it's a 36 short. I immediately informed my buddy, who wears said size, and he pounced. Extra points for pairing it with a pale lavender shirt and an even paler yellow tie, and a yellow flower, sans pocket square. I told you, I run with the big boys.

My own togs in action, finished by the appropriation of this orange flower from the centerpiece on our table. Don't forget, I was wearing bright orange socks too.

Of course, a guys just gotta dress well when the band equipment is all old and pretty, right? Check the circa late 1950s Gretsch "Chet Atkins" amp. Honestly.

If only I had the guts to ask strangers for photos, because you can't believe some of the duds dudes were sporting at this shindig. In case the photo of the house and "grounds" didn't give it away, the brides family has a little money, and that money is old, like coastal New England old. I mean like I met a guy named Wyn, and another guy named Buzz. You get the idea.

One old dude was wearing an orange and white seersucker jacket, which he bought for his Princeton reunion, much to his wife's chagrin, judging by the way her eyes rolled not at his being asked about it, but at his pleasure in talking about it. "Who wants to be just another navy blazer?" he said...or something like that.

At one point, I noticed that the brides father and three or four other dudes his age were all wearing the same striped tie, green and white, wide bars, looked to be vintage. Later, I asked her "Your Dad's tie, must be from a club, right?" Without a blink she replied "Porcellian Club, Harvard, class of 1958." Read the link, the Porcellian Club is the oldest private college social club in the country, like the Skull and Bones at Yale, only more exclusive and prestigious. So prestigious and exclusive that you might not ever have heard of it. Now, I do like a striped tie, but it's really unwise to wear one when you infiltrate the hardcore WASP sub-strata. These guys know their stripes, and can smell whether you "deserve" them or not.

But enough about threads...

On the way back, I took a brief detour in Portland to visit Duckfat, a little bistro known for it's fries, cooked in, you guessed it, duck fat. Decadent doesn't describe it. These fries were delicious and crispy with a richness like no others. In contrast, the delicate sweetness of Maine local Belgian style brew Allagash White provides the perfect counterpoint.

The braised pork belly panini, with pickled carrot and radish and a zesty mustard sauce weren't bad neither. Thin and crispy, like a panini should be, with a bit of an Asian vibe. If you're in the Portland neighborhood, give Duckfat a try.

The drive home also brought me through Kittery, home of the outlet mall. Irresistible. I checked out plenty of stores, but I was good. It wasn't until I visited the Barbour outlet that I was separated from my money.

Eggplant colored cords, $12.50! Remember, the word corduroy is said to bederived from the French "Cord du Roi" meaning the cloth of kings, and purple is a historically regal color, therefore purple corduroy pants are a slam-dunk, right?

And how could I resist this olive green corduroy cap with embroider pheasants on it, a scant $25?

But there I go, getting all off topic...

Congratulations Sam and B. Here's to many wonderful years together!

06 August 2010

Weddings in the Sun

Early tomorrow morning, I'll be heading North to the coast of Maine for a good friends wedding. Of course, I feel compelled to tell you what I'll be wearing.

Summer weddings are fun, though dressing for them can be tricky. For a guy, wearing a suit and tie in the heat is mostly an uncomfortable prospect. But that shouldn't stop you. I see it as an opportunity to to pull off one of the Summer looks I love so much but rarely get to utilize, given that we live in a time when casualness is king, and Summer specific dress clothing, for men at least, is practically becoming archaic. Still...

A tan Brooks Brothers suit, lightweight wool, vintage 1980s, Brooks Brothers second heyday, as it were.I love this suit, but seriously, when am I gonna wear it? I thought about the old poplin number, but it just seemed to casual for the event. All cotton and wrinkled would be fine, but the dacron blend left me short. Paired with a made to measure shirt and a killing knit tie I picked up the other day. More on the tie later.

By the way, check the perfect soft roll on that lapel. One more feather in Mr. Lee's cap. I dropped this suit off for dry cleaning last week, and the following conversation took place:

Me: When you press the jacket, just make sure you...

Mr. Lee: I know, like a two button.

Me: Right it's just that at some places when I bring these jackets...

Mr. Lee: Some places, not here.

I think I might have insulted him a little bit. Sorry, Mr. Lee, I didn't mean it.

Allen Edmonds Bradleys, in dark brown suede, and orange socks, you know, just because I'm like that. You didn't really think I could leave the whole outfit understated, did you now? Besides, a splash of color never killed anybody.

I had been poking around looking for a straw hat to really nail this ensemble down, but to no avail. I found some good ones, but they were all really expensive. I found some white ones, but I really wanted natural straw. Now I know that a good hat is a fine thing to invest real money in, but I don't have real money, so I dropped the idea. Then divine providence sends this little number my way. (tangent: ever seen a globe with the oceans in black? A fine piece of thrift store decor, courtesy of Mrs. G., it makes an eye catching accessory in it's understated weirdness.)

This is just what I wanted. The band in grey and black mini houndstooth cotton is just jaunty enough.

J.Crew!?! Made in China!?!. Yes it's true, even yours truly winds up in these unsavory shops from time to time. That's what I meant by divine providence. You see, it was overcast and threatening of heavy rain all day yesterday. In order to break the boredom of a day spent entirely in the house, I took the kids to the (gasp!) mall. We had a good time, cheeseburgers for lunch and a trip to the Lego store. As we walked past J.Crew, I felt the urge to check it out, and lo and behold, this hat. I think given my tastes and the way I generally shop, I can forgive myself throwing an occasional few bucks at the corporate giants...especially when they actually have what I want, which is rare at best.

My search for a straw hat also led me to the tie. Last week, I took the kids into the city with me and forced them to shop for hats. Well, that's not all we did, we also spent a good few hours in the Frog Pond and at the playground beside it, followed by cookies and commuter train watching at South Station. Anyway, I checked out the local hat shop...no dice. Then I checked out this pimp store in Downtown Crossing. I don't know the name, but it's the kind of place that sells mustard yellow suits with knee length eight button jackets, and the like. They actually had a lot of good looking hats, but too pricey. On a whim, I decided to check out Macy's across the street. In a messy bin of ties marked 65%off, I found this one.
Made from (gasp!) polyester in (gasp!) China, I almost left it behind based on those two points. Who knows, maybe I should have. But I really liked it, and you gotta admit, it does kinda make the outfit. Having good taste means knowing good things. Having style means knowing when its alright to favor your gut over the rules. My point is, everything doesn't need to be top shelf all of the time, so long as you strut it with confidence, and sometimes, the result can be greater than the mere sum of its parts.

Damn, I did get a bit long winded there, no? Anyway, tomorrow I go off the grid for a few days. Feel free to comment, but don't expect an update for a few days. Do, however, check back early next week for a continuation of my narcissistic drivel, and hopefully a few good anecdotes from a weekend spent in the North Country.