30 October 2010

White Suede and Grey Tweed: an Autumn Classic

I know I've said it before, so allow me to repeat myself. White suede bucks, as classically American as anything gets, may be a staple in the Summer wardrobe, but they carry on well into Autumn. I like mine a bit dirty, with tweed.
An old Sero oxford, 1980s black and white herringbone tweed jacket with brown leather buttons ( note the throat latch, nice touch) and a fake school tie. Perfect for a beautiful Autumn day, bright and sunny, crisp and a tad bit windy.
Fake school stuff is a touchy subject. Wearing real school stuff if you didn't attend said school is sketchy at best. Wearing fake school stuff mat be downright tacky. We'd all love to blame Ralph. But this old tie is from Brooks Brothers, with a black and white block lettered tag that dates it likely in the eighties, or older. Who cares? You, me and maybe four other guys? It's a good looking tie, I like it, it cost a buck and so i think I'll wear it.
Finishes nicely with khakis, pale blue cotton crew socks and white bucks. The more scuffed the better. I could throw up a million examples of this basic combo from the Life archives, but I won't bother, mostly because I'm sick of people illustrating blogs with ivy league shots from the Life archives...just sayin'. Suffice to say that white bucks in Fall and even Winter were a staple with tweed and thick flannel slacks starting in the 1920s. Some time in the last thirty years we collectively decided that they should only be worn in Summer, but that just sells these shoes short. White bucks and seersucker may be classic as all hell, but it verges on costume. White bucks and tweed? Killer. White bucks and a big wool sweater? Killer. White bucks and a toggle coat...not for the faint of heart, but also killer.

Belts can be tricky with white bucks. In Summer, nothing goes as good as a d-ring striped ribbon belt. in Fall, it's not so easy. Sure, I guess brown leather works, but I prefer a sturdy surcingle. This example, in brick red, picks up nicely on the rubber soles.

In the Summer, stick with topsiders and canvas sneakers. Save your white bucks for cool but sunny days when the leaves hit the ground. Thats when they really hit their stride.

29 October 2010

Simple Pleasures

Sometimes it doesn't take much.
Roasted chicken with butternut squash, potatoes and red onion.
A cheap but delicious white Burgundy (Talmard clocks in at $12.99 in Massachusetts)
Jazz on the radio. God bless WGBH. The music I love, without having to choose and change records. Today is Clifford Brown's birthday, so the pickins are especially good.

Stove top espresso and a slice of the pumpkin pound cake I picked up for $0.99 at the supermarket the other day. Perfect.

The boy was upstairs with his grandparents. The girl was a asleep. Mrs. G. was working late. Don't get me wrong, I live for my family. But this was the first time in years I sat to eat without interruption. Simple pleasures.

Clifford Brown died in 1956, leaving next to nothing in the way of live footage. Instead, enjoy this:

Of note: Bobby Timmons plays piano sitting on a chair; Benny Golson's glasses; matching 3/2 peaked lapel suits with one button sleeve cuffs that might as well have been designed by ADG. This is a clothing blog, remember?

27 October 2010

The Spoils

I'm a big fan of the blucher moccasin. In the Spring and Summer, I wear boat shoes six days a week, but between their sailing connotations and the fact that they look silly wit socks, they just don't cut it come September. Enter the blucher moc, a sort of sturdier version of the same shoe, and perfectly suitable with socks. My last pair were USA made Sebago Campsides. I wore them a lot, they came apart and the soles cracked, so be it.  It wasn't until the Fall hit that  realised how much I needed a new pair, so feeling a bit flush after Top Shelf II, I talked myself into these. Call them the spoils of war.

The L.L.Bean blucher moccasin. Though no longer made in Maine, unlike their more expensive counterparts from Quoddy, it's still a classic, comfortable and good looking shoe.  Generally, I'm a fan, but they do have their ups and downs. The leather is soft, if a little plasticy, but the color they call "saddle" is a nice shade of brown just this side of rusty orange.  Bean calls them "hand sewn", but that's a little misleading, since it's obvious that the only hand sewn  thing about them is the white stitched seam on the toe. Extra points for the cushioned insole. No, it ain't glove leather, but if you're like me and you spend upwards of 97% of your waking life on your feet, it's a welcome innovation.

All in all, a fair value for a scant $69. Quoddys cost $229. I'm fully aware that they're better in almost every way,  so let's avoid that argument. But these ain't dress shoes. I take care of my nice shoes, I clean them, I store them with shoe trees in them, I replace the soles as needed. A blucher moc is something I need to wear hard for a few years until they fall apart. I'll get caught in the rain in them, I'll get them muddy, sometimes I'll wear them with a tie. Quoddy or Bean, they'll fall apart eventually. Sometimes, even I gotta buy new, but I also have to assess the value of a thing. I'd love to go Made in USA all the time, but the fact of the matter is that its become prohibitively expensive for the average person Born in the USA to do so. Sometimes you gotta pick your battles, and it's not so bad to have to settle for these Bean shoes. Just sayin...

Perfect with khakis and argyle socks. Thumbs up.

addendum: 29 October 2010, blucher mocs "in the wild"

25 October 2010

Top Shelf Flea Market II (my sincerest gratitude)

For the second time running, I am proud to announce that The Top Shelf Flea Market was a roaring success! A good time was had by one and all, and I think I speak for all of the vendors in expressing my deepest gratitude to all the wonderful folks who came to see us and purchase our wares. If you were among the many folks who came a bought something, enjoy your new vintage goodies with my blessing.

As busy as I was, I didn't get to snap that many photos, but I did get a few:
The calm before the storm: my little shop just moments before we opened. The green doeskin blazer is defininitely a new favorite. (photo by James of 10engines).
Twenty minutes later, all these damn customers showed up and proceeded to wreck the place. Savages...
I'm pleased to say it was the same story all around the room...

Two dudes I can't thank enough: James Fox of the great blog 10engines (left), who helped me handle the hoards of ravenous well dressed gents. His signaure "hi/lo" style was in full effect in this combination of vintage thick-as-your-thumb Harris tweed, multi colored tattersall shirt with French cuffs, camoflage bow tie, heavy duty Carhart work pants and old longwings. My kid brother Nick (right) may be a casual fellow, but damned if doesn't shine a pair of brogues to a high gloss shine worthy of the military. Old school.

Further help was provided by this dashing young gent, my son. He'd been talking about having his uncle shine his shoes every day for three weeks, so after getting the polish on his Weejuns, he decided to stay and help out the old man by drinking ginger ale and planting himself firmly in a strategic spot where he could protect the record player from getting jostled.
My office

Hours into it, i can be seen here gesticulating wildly, no doubt pontifiacting about some arcane and downright inconsequential sartorial detail to this kind young fellow Mariano, who listens complacently in a check tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, leather gloves in the breast pocket, brown paddock boots, a boiled wool vest and a loden green alpine hat. Indeed, the last person I need to preach to.  (photo by N'East Style)
I'll be kicking myself for years for not snapping up this vintage wool Red Sox penant from Vintage Haven at the booth next door. Damn it!

Later that night, spent and exhausted, with a few extra bucks in my pocket, sushi take out and a short bottle of Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve Champagne really hit the spot.

I really can't thank the vendors and customers enough. Top Shelf Flea Market is a labor of love for me, and it's really gartifying to see so many people having such a good time. I love meeting and talking to interesting folks, and for me that's the highlight of an event like this. I can't wait for round three in the coming Spring.

We here in the somewhat insular community that is menswear blogging often lament the downward spiral of decorum and style in modern society, and it can be easy to wallow in that. But I have never seen so many polite and stylish people in one room ever. If the number of guys I talked to on Sunday in Barbour jackets, bow ties, tweed, brogues and tartan is any indication, there may be hope yet for the future.

In closing, if any of you have pictures of Top Shelf II you'd like to share, I'd love to see them. Feel free to email me at anaffordablewardrobe@yahoo.com.

Thank you all,


23 October 2010

Gone To Market...

See you tomorrow at The Top Shelf Flea Market!
Sunday, 24 October, 10a.m.-4p.m.
371 Summer Street, Somerville, MA, 02144

21 October 2010

Put Some 'English' On It

It's certainly no secret that we Italians live to dress, and our contributions to the canon of classic menswear have indeed been great. As an Italian who grew up in Boston, a deep understanding of the tenets of traditional American style operates in tandem with this. But it would all be for naught if it weren't for the English.
Thankfully, I live in a place that gets cold enough to really bring the English style out in full force. If we want to get all crazy and picky about it, we could talk about how these are "country clothes", suitable for weekends at the estate, strolling with the hounds and shooting ducks. But truthfully, I could live my life in a t-shirt and shorts and no one but me would notice, so who cares about that? Damned if this stuff doesn't keep you warm of a chilly night.
You may remember this jacket, acquired in February. It's about as English as they come. I could gush about the fabric, but I already did, just read the link. I know this looks like a sports jacket, but it's really a short coat. It's so heavy, I should probably hang it in the front closet with the Barbour and the toggle coats, rather that with the suits and jackets. It's so heavy, in fact, that I only wore it twice last Winter. Too thick for indoor use, it's best used as outerwear. The shirt is old Brooks Brothers, likely early 90s, with the elusive perfect collar roll. A thoroughly American convention, thoroughly heisted from the Brits. The tie is old Brooks Brothers, 1960s is my guess. Both, though American made, are right at home with this piece of duck hunting gear.

In keeping with the idea of shooting water fowl, a corduroy cap with embroidered pheasants by Barbour is a cinch.
And because I'm a garish Yankee with no right to even dress like a monied Yankee of English descent, I'll just go ahead and take things a little too far with a fox hunting themed belt. 
Garish as I can be, I don't normally go for the open working cuff button, but in this case, how can one resist? Seriously, that cloth...
Another corduroy, in a narrower wale, for the trews. Something about multiple corduroy statements has got Brit written all over it. Argyle socks hail originally from Scotland, though mine are from Target. I don't get to wear these vintage English made Clark's in loden green suede often enough, but clearly nothing else would do here.

I really meant that last post to hold you over until after the Top Shelf Flea, but I had so much fun putting this one together, I simply couldn't help but share.

The moral of the story is: when the leaves turn and the chill wind blows, if in doubt, go British.

20 October 2010

Beat The Press

The Weekly Dig, Boston's local goings-on-about-town paper, was kind enough to interview me and some of the other vendors from the Top Shelf Flea last week. Read the full article here.

What a treat! Though some of the info may be slightly innacurate (hours are 10-4, not 12-6) we all  appreciate the nod. Thanks, Emma and the Dig.
Maybe you love tassel loafers, but have yet to score a pair of Alden's....
Or maybe you're a sucker for neckties. Your wife, girlfriend or significant other of any stripe may be constantly asking you what you need all those ties for, but you know that too much is never enough....

or maybe you're dying to get your mitts on a handmade bow tie by the kindly Miss Ellie LaVeer.

Or perhaps you just can't help but wonder what all this crazy sh*t I like to prattle on about looks like in person.

Sunday could be your lucky day.

18 October 2010

Bells That No Longer Ring

I don't get to wear a suit very often, so it's always fun when I do. Today I had the opportunity to trot out a little number that's been languishing in the closet nearly a year since I got it.
Goes magnificently with a blue point collar shirt in 80s pinpoint from the Andover Shop ($1.00)  and a handmade  bow tie in charcoal wool flannel by Miss Ellie La Veer (generous gift). A sliver pocket square (had it so long I can't remember...bought it at Filene's Basement R.I.P.) seals the deal. A bowler hat and rolled umbrella might have been nice here, but only in London. Let's be reasonable.

Down below I am overcome with a fit of iconoclasm, manifested in the combination of navy pinstriped suit, brown longwings and sucker punch skull & bones socks. Forget for a moment the ridiculous skulls...navy pants with black socks and brown shoes? Scandalous? Perhaps, in that it flies in the face of every "rule" you ever heard about socks and shoes and the color of your pants, but it's downright killing as well, if you'll allow me. One of the distinct pleasure of dressing well by choice is the freedom to disregard any damn rule you like.

But the real point of this post is to reveal one of the "secrets of thrift", or rather to re-iterate the most important one: you can, and indeed should, have your clothes altered. Frankly, it's a rule that applies to anything you buy, but it's especially relevant to thrift shopping, given that simple problems of fit and cut, though easily correctable, can blind you to the potential of a garment.  I bought this suit because it was classic and well made, rendered in a realy beautiful fabric. But it did need help. This suit was made in the dreaded and much maligned 1970s. As such, the pants had quite a flare at the bottom. But tapering pants is a fairly simple, and cheap, operation. Simply bring tham to your tailor, explain the trouble, and ask for a narrower leg opening. These pants came down from an 11 inch opening to a perfectly reasonable and far more classic 9 inches, meaning when laid flat the opening measures 9 inches across. Two inches may not seem like much, but it's a huge difference in a leg opening. Oddly enough, the jacket has conservative medium width lapels as opposed to the wide ones popular then, and rather than having the highly suppressed waist and flared skirt of the time, it has an un-darted front. Go figure...
There are even bonus points sometimes, like these "top pockets", that is pockets cut at an angle more like they would be on a pair of jeans, a distinctly 1970s bell bottom detail, far from conservative. I dig it.

The 1970s may have been a garish and ugly decade, but remember that everybody wasn't running around in yellow polyester and avocado green suede doing coke in the bathroom of studio 54. Some guys were working in banks and law firms, hell, even in men's shops. And don't forget that in many ways, it was the last decade in which grown ups still dressed like they were older than children. The USA was still producing much of what it consumed and the quality of construction of these garments was top notch. It really only takes a modicum of careful editing and a good eye for potential to strike gold on something that a lot of people would consider only for a Halloween costume.

Close-mindedness will get you nowhere as a cheapskate.

p.s. thanks, Jesse.

16 October 2010

The Lieutenant

At the first Top Shelf Flea Market back in May, I was more than a little surprised and overwhelmed by the turnout. It was a pleasant surprise, and it's always nice to meet so many readers.  I think I talked for a solid 4 1/2 hours that day. While it is gratifying to be so "slammed" as we say in the retail business, it did make for some logistical difficulties when it came to simple things like a trip to the restroom, or more importantly, the bar. This time, I've enlisted the help of a Lieutenant.
Here's a picture of James (neck down, Affordable Wardrobe style), in a pair of khakis, tattersall shirt, a tie with a pattern of migrating ducks, and some chambray used as a jacket on a crisp but sunny day. His attire of choice on a Friday afternoon.  A kindred spirit indeed. If you haven't been checking out James' own blog  10engines, you've been missing something. For shame, it's been at the top of the blogroll for a long time.

James brings his own rugged and creative sensibility to the table, a style he describes as "hi/lo". It's the sort of thing exemplified perfectly in things like his camouflage bow tie, see here. Together with James and my brother on shoe shine patrol, An Affordable Wardrobe's little corner of the world is shaping up to be quite the place to be next Sunday.
As an added bonus, James has gotten his hands on a box of these "junk bags" by the Textile Buff & Wheel Co., based in nearby Charlestown, Massachusetts. For a full description on why you need one of these, see here. Available practically nowhere at retail, we are proud to offer these bags to you. In James' words, they "hold more that you can carry". So grab one, and fill it with a pair or shoes, a tweed jacket, a half a dozen hard to find books, a lamp for the nightstand, a vintage cocktail set, a cool piece of jewelry for your girl, a cast iron baking dish, and maybe a couple of Heinekens you snuck out of the bar for the long walk home.

13 October 2010

A Mild Case of Schizophrenia

What can you do when old Ma Nature gets all schizo, bringing you nice sunny days, freezing cold in the morning, then warm, then sort of chilly? Respond in kind:
Wide wale go-to-hell kelly green cords, paired with topsiders and bare ankles, as worn on Tuesday. (the pants are the same length,and not that short. It's just the way I bent over to snap the photo...don't get smart)

On Wednesday, a Barbour jacket over a tennis shirt. Until recently, I would have thought the warm weather shirt and the cool weather jacket wouldn't play well together. Then I got this email from a reader in England saying something about this being the uniform of Liverpool soccer fans. Not that I strive to dress like a Liverpool soccer fan, but why not? Imagine if you went to a Red Sox/ Yankees game and this was the common mode of dress...just sayin'...
A pinch (just a pinch) of schizophrenia is alright by me. Just keep it in check.

11 October 2010

Nobody Sleeps in a Tuxedo (on casualness)

I like to dress well, and these days that involves being frequently overdressed by most peoples standards. It's very rare that any occasion in my daily life requires me to wear so much as a dress shirt, let alone a tie or a jacket. But I do it anyway, because I enjoy it and it makes me happy. This being a style blog geared at like minded folks who are also prone to overdressing, one might get the impression that I sleep in a tux. It's far from true. Much of my life is spent in casual clothing doing somewhat messy things with my two small children. Even then I find ways to be comfortable and stylish. Taking care of the wee ones demands a comfortable mode of dress that takes to getting dirty, but I refuse to spend my life in pajamas and sweat pants. Being comfortable and suitably dressed for such situations doesn't have to mean eternal slovenliness. Despite what many people would currently believe, there exists a myriad of "happy mediums" between formal wear and pajamas. To wit:
My boy is in pre-school now, which means I rise early, feed the kids, get us all dressed and rush out the door three days a week. Sometimes I don't even take a shower until I return home from dropping him off. Such is real life. No matter,on a sunny but brisk morning in early Fall, a clean blue jeans, bare ankles and boat shoes play well with a soft cotton sweater in pale yellow and simple white tennis shirt. Easy and comfortable, and yet still I felt "dressed". It really doesn't take much.
Later that same day, the weather warmed a bit, and I decided to take the wee ones for a last blast at the beach. No swimming or bare chested sun bathing, just some old fashioned fun digging in the sand and collecting clam shells to paint on later. The sweater, being by now too warm, is replaced with a soft old plaid shirt, worn jacket style over the tennis shirt. It's amazing how much something as simple as a collar on your shirt can elevate even the most casual of outfits.
Who says big puffy athletic shoes and flip flops are the final word in easy going, comfortable footwear? A tattered old pair of topsiders does me just fine, and I feel like a grown up wearing them. Crocs will never be my thing, ever, but I gotta hand it to the guy who came up with these rubber things. A better warm weather shoe for children has never existed before this.

I'll admit that sometimes the best shoes are no shoes. One of my favorite things about living in Boston is our close proximity to the sea, and the ability to get barefoot in the sand. It's incomparable. Notice how nicely those Wranglers are aging. They remain dark while they develop the perfect fade. All you have to do to achieve this look is wash your jeans when they get dirty. I bet I have them for a long time.

Not a bad match rolled with a pair of handmade New England hippie shoes either. The perfect ensemble for apple picking.

We can all lament the loss of whatever it is we lament the loss of in our modern world. We can all do what we will to hang on to the best bits of our own romanticized version of the past. Nothing wrong with any of that. But life must lived in the present. You don't have to run around in sweatpants from Target, but you can't wear a tux to bed either. The real trick lies in striking a balance.

Sorry if I got a bit maudlin there. Next time, I'll do what I can to keep it shallow.

09 October 2010

Greensleeves, part II

After a long and relatively fruitless search, I'm glad to say I've finally found the perfect green blazer. Readers may remember a few weeks ago I stumbled on an old Brooks Brothers number.Today, it's back from the careful hands of Mr. Lee, altered and freshly dry cleaned.
The longer I write this blog, the more I wish I had a better camera. So often, minor aspects of color and texture play such an important role in the beauty of the old tings I find, and I wish I do could do them better justice. But I digress...

As I mentioned in my previous post on the relative merits of the green blazer as an alternative to the classic navy, the shade of green is of the utmost importance. My past attempt at making one out of half a suit left me cold because the shade of green was all wrong. That jacket had a heavy brown cast that rendered it drab and frumpy. This one has a blue cast, a subdued color, yet infinitely more vibrant and workable. It combines well with most things that might normally go with navy. The power of a good dry cleaning can not be understated. When I found this jacket, it was downright crunchy with dirt. A week later, it's two shades brighter and so much softer. The fabric is doeskin, something between flannel and boiled wool, wonderfully soft to the touch and warm without being bulky. Whatever happened to doeskin?
Given the fabrics blue cast, I relied on navy as the main secondary color, pairing it with a white oxford with navy pencil stripes, a navy bow tie with green bar stripes, a navy and white gingham square and a cap in Black Watch tartan. I have a lot of ties with a navy ground that I hardly ever wear. With a navy blazer, the look is too pat. Sometimes, they come out with a grey tweed. The only other thing they tend to go with is a grey suit. Now, I would love to wear suits more often. But given that I am constantly overdressed, a suit just takes things too far, even for me. This green blazer let's the navy ties come out to play more often. Cavalry twill slacks in classic tan would have been just the thing, but it ain't that cold yet. Instead, mid weight charcoals did the trick.

For the final touch, brown wingtip brogues and some $2.50 argyle socks from Target, one more pattern for good measure. I often hear guys say they don't get pattern matching, or can't pull it off. I say start simple, and keep your major elements solid. In this case, I'm grey on the bottom and dark green on top. Everything else has a pattern, yet the overall effect is unobtrusive because they are all in one very limited color palette (navy, white, green) and balanced by large areas of related solid colors. That, plus the tiniest bit of peacockish self confidence is really all it takes.

Thrift shopping takes vision. This jacket was nasty filthy and a little too small. The buttons were these cool scrimshaw jobbies, but all wrong for the garment. In short, though it may be vintage Brooks Brothers "346", it was far from perfect. Yet, it didn't take much to restore it to something wonderful. Dry cleaning, letting out the sides a bit, and a new set of buttons made a drastic difference. These are all simple and cheap fixes. Shopping cheap and being stylish have at least this in common: sometimes you have to see something not for what it is right now, but for what it could be with only a few well chosen tweaks. Off the rack clothing, whether thrifted or new, is frequently best viewed only as raw material. Learning to mold it to yourself, to make it yours, makes all the difference.

06 October 2010

Coming Soon...

With the second semi-annual Top Shelf Flea Market less than three weeks away, it occurs to me that a pinch of the old shameless self promotion is in order.
Behold the pile, the "back room", "downstairs", my basement, just brimming with treasures any well appointed gent would be happy to possess. Tweed, khaki, moleskin, woolens and down, you name it. I've got you covered this Winter. ( tangent: sometimes people ask me what band I was in back in the old days. One of them is shown clearly in this photo. Can you guess?)
Brass buttoned blazers, vintage Harris tweed checks, and a little bit of real camel hair. Many sizes available, but each piece one of a kind (in a manner of speaking).

Plenty of outerwear to keep a fella warm, ranging from military rain coats to British Chesterfields. In addition to the wonderful hand made original bow ties of The Cordial Churchman, Miss Ellie has told m she'll be sending some scarves made of reclaimed tweed, flannel and corduroy. Excellent.

If you happen to be a size 38 short, and are planning a ski vacation in Flaine (check it out, it's a ski resort town in the Haute Savoie region of France designed entirely by Marcel Breuer. In a Utopia such as this, one can only hope that each room is equipped with a proper hi-fi and a few Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Rollins records) in 1968, you simply must have this sweater. No question. I really wanted it to fit me, but alas, it never will. Please one of you give it the loving home it deserves.
So come on down, grab a beer or a V.O. highball, let my brother shine your shoes, and spend and hour or two meeting some cool vendors and being separated from your money. With a line up like this, I promise you won't regret it.

department of corrections: the bar opens at noon.