11 February 2011

Cold Weather Quartet

The four trustiest things in the closet when the chill sets in:

l-r: 80 % wool/ 20% nylon snowflake sweater, L.L. Bean, made in USA, $5.99 ; 100% wool oatmeal ragg sweater, L.L.Bean, made in USA, $4.99 ; 80% wool/20% nylon wine/oatmeal heather ragg sweater, L.L.Bean, not made in USA, gift of Mrs. G (assuredly cheap) ; 100% wool Norwegian style sweater, Boston Traders, not L.L.Bean, not made in USA, close enough for a few bucks.

While it's true I do enjoy my finery, the fact is that I spend the great bulk of my time minding the children and going about the mundane tasks of everyday life. These sweaters, paired with oxford shirts, khakis, wide wale cords or even jeans comprise my Winter uniform in those times.

Comfort, stress,the children and a lack of time in the morning tend to be the favorite excuses made by so many parents for leaving the house in clothing that amounts to little more than pyjamas, but these things are no excuse. In these clothes, I am plenty comfortable, and yet I fell like I am dressed like an adult. Dignity and respect for both myself and others motivate me to put on proper clothing for even the most mundane of tasks.

In the long run it's still only a pullover and jeans we're talking about here, and these clothes don't take any more effort to don than sweatpants and cross trainers. A little effort goes a long way.

With that, I think I'll just tie the old high horse to the hitching post and retire for the evening.


Anonymous said...

Please explain this "Made in U.S.A." fetish and why you (and other Trad bloggers) believe that something made in the U.S. is necessarily better in quality than something produced in Malaysia, for example.

Do you think that clothing factory workers in the U.S. are some sort of Old World craftsmen?

Giuseppe said...

There's something nice about self sufficiency.

We make practically nothing that we use in America anymore, and that is shameful. It's got less to do with quality and more to do with integrity.

The fact that sweatshops and child labor are illegal here is an added bonus.

notanymore said...

G summed it up quite well, but I have sworn off entire clothing lines and entire brands because of Made in China. For me, it really is the moral implications of purchasing from developing countries. I don't like adding to the demand that creates a supply made in places where labor laws are lax and collective bargaining is nonexistent, or at worse, illegal.

...Back to the topic at hand. I am currently waiting for my vintage 1980s LL Bean navy and white birdseye Norwegian sweater (made in Norway) to arrive. It should, hopefully, be in the mail now.

C.Sharp said...

I am wearing one of those old Bean raggs as I write this. "Integrity" is a wonderful word to describe these. Also honest is also good word. I think I hold them in high esteem because they were never meant to be anything special.

Nathanael said...

Anonymous: I think there are several reasons to prefer U.S. made goods. The frequent abuse of workers in third-world nations is one, as are concerns for American self-sufficiency and the availability of decent blue-collar jobs.

However, I would add that quality is a factor, not because American workers are inherently better than those in other nations, but because the business model of any company still making clothing in America is more likely to be focused on quality. Shifting production offshore to cut costs seems to be accompanied by further cuts to quality and an increase in the advertising budget.

JKG said...

"...places where labor laws are lax and collective bargaining is nonexistent, or at worse, illegal."

Like, say, your local big-box? (Though I'm sure you don't shop there, either.)

It's nice to support local businesses of all stripes. Domestic manufacture is good for people who are often your neighbors, and if we all (or at the very least, most) were to support domestic manufacturing by buying USA-made products whenever possible, certainly there would be a positive effect on our economy.

But if that's the reason folks on this site collect USA-made clothing, it's an odd fetish. Redeeming American goods from the thrift store does next-to-nothing to support local manufacture. A tertiary effect at best.

And I might add, "sweatshops and child labor are illegal here so far." After all, child labor prohibitions and things like overtime, the 40 hour work week and OSHA are bad for business -- all very costly. In Maine we seem determined to eviscerate any of these petty regulations that stand in the way of "business."

All that said, I guess you can make the case that for certain decades, thrift-finds that were made here are in fact of a higher quality than Asian or perhaps South American imports of the same vintage.

William Bezek said...

Anonymous, are you paying attention? US Corporations have outsourced everything and now we are paying the price with a broken economy and staggering unemployment. Shouldn't that be reason enough to buy American?

Sid IV said...

Kionon, I recently aquired a vintage blue LL Bean Norweigen sweater as well. Interesting note is the birdseye pattern on the current "model" and my vintage one run in different directions, though I don't know what year this changed. And I later got the off white version as well, which I actually wear more! I'm not always a stickler for such things, but it is nice to have some authentic items like this.

Good point, that it takes no more effort to dress a bit nicer. Comes down to personal style, maybe?

Giuseppe said...

And here I thought we'd be gearing up for a discussion of the decline of society, as evinced in the number of pyjama bottoms/sweatshirt combos seen on the street on any given day.

There's got to be something sticking in the collective craw here. The issue of domestic provenance always seems to get people talking, a lot. It would appear we're all more concerned with this than we may think.

Nathanael's point is a good one. Any company looking to cut corners by moving off shore isn't exactly building a reputation on the highest quality no matter what. Sadly, most people don't really care either, as reflected outwardly in their willingness to appear in public un-bathed and in bed clothes, and therein lies the nub of the problem.

JKG said...

I love this: "I think I hold them in high esteem because they were never meant to be anything special."

There's nostalgia in there, somewhere.

I love the story behind the Bean's guarantee (return anything for any reason, at any time, and they will replace, repair or refund). For those who don't know it, LL filled hundreds of orders from his first catalogue for the now-iconic Maine Hunting Shoe.

Nearly every one of them was faulty, and not in a small way: the soles cracked apart.

He refunded all complainants, as promised. Then he had the manufacture perfected and went on, as we know, to great success.

The point is, though, that he DID mean for his stuff to be special. He meant to produce high-quality goods. Not special in the, "hey, check out my stylish boots (ragg sweater" way. More in a "buy this and never buy another" way. That notion is where the nostalgia rests, maybe.

To me, there's an undeniable sense of pride I get when I see the Made In U.S.A. label (provided the item isn't crap). I don't feel it in a jinogistic or statist way -- it's much simpler. I think, "We made this." And I'm proud.

In a cold market sense, this is an impediment. The rest of the world makes many things that are just as good or better for as much or less money. Often, I take those bargains.

But when there's a choice between equals (and sometimes not quite equals) I will often buy something made here before something not made here. Simply because we did it.

I suspect that many is the Brit, the Italian, the German, the Japanese who feels the same way. No one bought a Norton for its reliability, after all.

MPR said...

One day we are going to realize that we make very little here any more and that it seems like most of our economy is based on moving enormous sums of money from one end of it to the other with everyone clamoring to take a cut along the way, and that eventually China will be sitting on most of our money.

Scary to think about, and sad really, that we have sold America out for what amounts to stuff designed to break so we can buy more stuff. Can't stop progress I guess and you've got to give the people what they want.

I don't know if it is so much "fetishizing" made in the USA products for me than is the knowledge that if I am buying something made in the USA that is another transaction that stays here in the USA and that will create more USA based transactions. I would rather buy something made in the USA from a thrift than that same product made overseas for that simple reason.

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest, my wife posed me the same question about Made in the US and quality. Like Giuseppe, she is a thrift addict and so gets real nervous anytime she has to buy a clothing item over $20.

Opposites attract as they say, so I don't like to thrift--the smell bugs me and I have too vivid an imagination of what these clothes went through before ending up at the thrift store. So I can't speak to the quality of vintage Made in the US items.

But I would argue that the odds are better for the quality on new items made in the US, since the survivors' primary focus is not competing based on price.

Anonymous said...

Those who feel they are doing the right thing bu buying American might like to know that many European products now do not indicate the country of manufacture, but simply say "Made in the E.U." so that, for example, it won't be possible for a French consumer to discriminate against German goods because he/she won't know which European country they were made in.

Donna said...

I, for one, hope you continue to ride your "high horse". While in a big-box store I made a comment to the cashier about seeing a person wearing pajamas in the store and the clerk replied that she thought "it is okay if you just have to run out for something". I got on my high horse and told her that it is totally unacceptable to leave the house without being fully clothed.

notanymore said...

JKG, I try to avoid the local big box. There are exceptions. I once purchased a jacket from Seiyu (that would be the Japanese Wal-Mart, owned in fact by Wal-Mart) because I was six hours north of home for business and had completely misread the weather. I was freezing, so I didn't have much choice. Such decisions are few and far between.

Sid IV, the biggest difference between the current model and the 70s/80s model is the material. The vintage model is a bit more rugged because it was 80% wool and 20% rayon. None of us are fans of too much artificial fabric, but in this case, the rayon is generally believed to be one of the main reasons that the vintage model wore (and wears) so well after so many years.

I try to buy NEW items made in the USA. I only buy vintage items when something is out of production, very cheap, or a lucky find. And even then, I usually have to order it from someone online. Unlike G, I am not really near a mecca of trad/ivy/prep (not that those things are the same, and a different discussion for a different day) recycle shops of the sort that can be found along the east coast.

..I've just returned to college for my MA after graduating with my BA a few years ago, and I am shocked at the number of sweat pants and pajama bottoms I see. I actually don't think that this has accelerated in the intervening years; I think that as I have grown older and had a 40 hour a week job where my students wore uniforms and I wore a suit and tie every day, I'm just not used to the fashion behavior of college students anymore.

Scott said...

Hey, I have that very sweater (the LL Bean one in front)! The high armholes are great, it's warm as anything, and looks cool. What's not to like?

Fatfriend said...

To return to Wardrobe's fundamental point, I agree entirely; I seldom venture out in anything less formal than a suit of serviceable tweed and stout brogues, all made in England by underpaid craftsmen.

Musn't weaken.

Anonymous said...

i recently bought that sweater on the left on ebay. needless to say i find myself not even wearing my coat sometimes.

Young Fogey said...


I think most everyone here has slapped you down, and well. I will add my 2¢ anyway.

In addition to all the fine reasons given above, the reason I buy new American-made products whenever I can is quite simply that I care more about my fellow countrymen than I do about foreigners.

This is as natural as caring more about my children than about someone else's. It doesn't mean that foreigners, or others' children, are less valuable. It means that Others are less important to me, that I have a greater bond to my own family and people than I do to others' families and foreign people.

It really is that simple.

Put more selfishly, if I buy American, I support American workers and the US economy. My money stays here, benefitting other Americans, which in turns benefits me, because they pay taxes domestically, put their money in American banks (which other Americans can then borrow), and so forth.

It's good of you to ask, Anonymous, but next time, perhaps you can ask in a nicer tone.

Young Fogey said...

P.S.: Love the snowflake sweater!

Anonymous said...

Many items of Ralph Lauren clothing various clothing ranges are made in Mexico, El Salvador, Bolivia, Indonesia, the Phillippines and China. I haven't seen many comments on Trad blogs from people sworn off RL for its long-standing practise of outsourcing to developing countries and I'm assuming not everyone is solely buying purple label or couture. I guess when its RL, people choose to overlook it.

I was surprized to read a comment that not all EU clothing designates the individual country of origin. I found on my recent trip to London that my newly purchased Derek Rose pajamas, Jermyn Street shirts and John Lobb shoes all declared themselves to be made in England on their labels. Perhaps those that choose not to declare which EU country the product is manufactured in are simply trying to disguise the shift of manufacturing to one of the new member states (Romania, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia etc) - I would expect that manufacturers in England, Italy and Germany will still want to make it clear where their products have been made.

As for people wearing pajama bottoms / sweatshirt combos in public, I really don't mind what other people wear as at least they are covered up. I have the sometimes good fortune of living in South Florida and I'd be happier with just a little less flesh on display in public, particularly with the obesity epidemic in full spate.

Roger v.d. Velde said...

@Anon -08:13

I may be misunderstanding your point, but it doesn't make sense for a French person to discriminate against German-made goods since the E.U. is a single market operating under uniform laws and standards. Which means that the only quality differences are those that you would find find among manufacturers in a single country - e.g. better sourced wool or better manufacturing techniques.

The 'Made in the E.U.' label guarantees at least that testing, standards and working standards are all up to E.U. law standards. And since Europe has a rather high standard of clothing manufacture anyway, the likelihood is of higher quality.
In the same way it makes sense to buy and support American-made goods, even though they may be dearer, since there's no other way of regenerating a home market and manufacturing base than supporting it by choosing to buy it and making it viable.

The vaunted 'free-market' is the enemy of national manufacture in advanced economies; America and the E.U. can't say no to Chinese imports without undermining the economic principles its architects claim to support, but on the flip side they know it undermines national production and trade when places with lower production costs can trump you. This is why both greedy and desperate business manufactures in the Far-East. It's hara-kiri by worshipping the bottom-line.

Sorry about the political point on an apparel blog, but I feel it's related to the issue.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a quality thing. Most clothing items made in America are manufactured to last. Outsourced items are produced to be replaced quickly, only for the consumer to be rebuy and replace the item again and again. I would say this is especially true for clothing. It really sucks for the consumer, for the people making the stuff and for especially the negative impact all that STUFF has on the world in general.

Aggie K said...

Young Fogey,
Right on! I totally agree with you, and very well put as well.

My only defense of the biggest of big box stores is that it is the only store locally that carries bags for my vacuum cleaner. For want of a bag I would have to buy a new vacuum cleaner.

Grace said...

If you buy something that was made in the 3rd world secondhand, you're not supporting outsourced jobs. That battle was lost before you ever came along. The garment purchased, turned over to a thrift store, and the money you pay for it is probably even going to charity (or, if the thrift store's not a charity, it's going to a small business in your country). The quality argument is seperate and has been made already, but you're not supporting child labor if you buy it secondhand.

Albert Akashi said...

@Anon 9:02am

England is not a part of the EU, therefore their products say Made in England.