30 June 2011

Playground Attire

It can be tough to maintain a certain modicum of style when much of your day is spent chasing small children. This becomes exponentially so when it's hot and a large part of that day is spent outside in parks and playgrounds. I'll admit that comfort and ease of mobility are of the essence in these situations, and it's silly to wear a tie to push kids in swings and play "monster" at the play structure, but I'll be damned if I'm going out in a t-shirt.
A madras shirt like this one becomes a favorite in those situations. Real madras, by Ralph Lauren, acquired for one dollar awhile back. Don't say it, I know all about the extreme pattern mis-match of the pocket, but I'm sure that was done purposefully. It adds to the extreme casual vibe of the shirt. Lands' End "legacy chino" shorts with a 9 inch inseam are a great cheap commodity this time of year. I recently bought two pair for $25 each, one in "soft butter" and the other in "seagrass green". Truth be told, my current pair of "Nantucket Reds" are actually legacy chinos in "vintage brick" and I love those too.
Don't forget that madras is a particular type of cloth, not just a term for plaid Summer stuff. The real deal is weightless and gauze-like, with slubby imperfections throughout, and nothing wears better on a hot day. The fact that this example is rendered in a large scale plaid in purple, yellow and red is a bonus.
Sperry Topsiders have long been the shoe of choice with shorts. But with my current pair in tatters, brown suede driving mocs have taken that spot. These shoes are like walking around in slippers, only better, because they're Italian suede loafers. At $5.49, they are far from too precious for a trip to the playground. Someday they'll look great with less-than-blazing-white ankles. I'm working on that, but for now, this is what we have to work with.

Taking care of kids is a messy business, but it's also lots of fun. Sure you want to be comfortable, but there's no reason that style and comfort can't live together. In truth, it doesn't take much more effort to look well than it does to "just throw on a t-shirt".

p.s. some of you may have noticed that I took down my Facebook page last week. Today it's back up. I admit to being a fuddy-duddy when it comes to Facebook, and it's uses and usefulness continue to evade me. And though I don't much care for the way it made feel as though I could physically see my privacy packing its bags and leaving in a taxi, I've come to realize that it's extremely difficult to run an online business these days without it. So I'm back. To all of you who "like" me or "fanned me up" (is that the correct expression?) my sincere thanks. Please tell all of your "friends".

27 June 2011

What To Do

I recently picked up this little tome for a buck or two. Official Preppy Handbook be damned, the youth need to read this one here.

 A simply written etiquette book for teenagers dating from the late 1960s. How many adult men do you know who still dress correctly for parties, hold a ladies coat, or walk on the curbside of the sidewalk when out on a date? Forty years ago, someone was telling this stuff to the 14 year old soda-pop-and-45-rpm set.
Aesthetically speaking, the graphics really won me over. This image, from the title page, is now my new screensaver.

Then there's the actual advice, nearly all of which rings true today...

...doesn't it?

Some choice quotes:

Who needs manners? You do. We all do. Manners make life easier for everybody.

You look better when your body is clean and your clothes are clean. Dirty clothes make you look and feel sloppy. Clean clothes show that you care about yourself and the way you look.

A dress or skirt is always right for a girl, but slacks or shorts could be wrong.

A white shirt is always right for a boy (and you could put a tie in your pocket, just in case), but a sport shirt or T-shirt could be wrong.

You can borrow not only books but all kinds of records at most public libraries.

All big cities-and many towns- have "thrift shops" where alomost new clothing can be bought at a very small cost. Many people, even with a good deal of money to spend, buy clothes this way.

Good quality clothes, even if they cost a little more, are really cheaper than false"bargains". They will wear better, look better, launder better, and last much longer than cheap things. If you plan ahead and wait for a sale, you can usually get a good dress or suit for the price of one not so good.

Amen. And here I thought I made all this stuff up myslef.

p.s. The shop has been a bit neglected lately, but a slew of new items went up today. See you there.

22 June 2011

The Case For (semi) Crummy Shoes

I firmly believe that quality should take a back seat to nothing usually. But as with everything, there are some minor exceptions, at least in my book. Rainy days like the one we just had in Boston will get your feet wet, and likely wreck a good pair of shoes. Overshoes, especially expensive ones,  are something I just don't have time for, personally, kinda like overly precious loungewear. Enter the crummy, but acceptable, penny loafer.

In many ways, this pair isn't so bad. An old pair of USA made Sebagos, found at a thrift store for less than ten dollars. The construction and styling are actually pretty good, but the plastic like corrected grain leather, with it's somewhat unearthly permanent sheen is something I could live without. However, on a really rainy day, I don't mind if they get wet. Being rather unbreathing, they actually do a fair job of keeping the water out. Being all slick and plastic like, they wipe clean with a wet paper towel, and being cheap, I won't really care if they get ruined. Stylistically, they blend right in with my general sartorial aesthetic, and paired with the trousers from my poplin suit, which are fairly quick drying, they make a pretty good option in a heavy rain, without sacrificing too much in the way of style. Up top, a Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece navy blazer, pink oxford and repp tie make up for what I feel is, under the circumstances of a heavy rain in June, a forgivable lack of quality down below.

Believe me, I never would have thought I'd find myself singing the unexpected praises of corrected grain leather shoes, but I guess we learn something new every day. A decent pair of crummy shoes is a good to thing to have in a pinch.

20 June 2011

What's So Bad About Aspiration, Anyway?

Clothing as a subject can be such a loaded gun that I find myself constantly surprised when writing about and discussing it. For something that is in reality so ultimately meaningless and inconsequential, few things are more fraught with meaning and consequence than the way in which a person presents themselves. I think about this a lot, but I try to keep things generally light around here. However, there's really only so much yammering a guy can do about the cut of his coat and the direction of the stripes on his tie before things get stale, and a little dose of meaningful conversation can help put things in perspective. So today, let's start shallow like we usually do but wind up in the deep end.
With warm temps and sunshine in full swing, all my Summer favorites have been making the rounds with increasing regularity. This old seersucker jacket from Brooks Brothers, patiently sitting in the back row of the closet since last Autumn when I found it for a few bucks,  sees it's second run this past Saturday, in full dress form with a white pinpoint shirt and emblematic tie. What could be more crisp, clean and classic on a hot day?
This, by the way, is how a Summer jacket should be constructed: self lined, with taped edges, and patch pockets. See the shadow of the pocket showing through? Lightweight, comfortable stuff, but not by any means slouchy. In back, we get a 1/4 lining at the shoulders, and lined sleeves, the whole thing machine washable.
While it's true I do dig my seersucker, especially one like this with very prominent stripes, I can't quite hang with a whole suit. I'm a big fan of seersucker trousers with a navy blazer, or conversely a seersucker jacket with grey worsted slacks, as seen here. Striped socks picked up for two bucks at Target keep things from getting too serious. Believe it or not, there's something just too over the top about head to toe seersucker for me. It's true, even I have my limits, and I am fully aware that the line between mere brash foppery and goof-ball costumes is as thin as a hair...maybe that's why I cross it more often than I'd like, but I try to stay on the right side of the line, while getting as close to the line as possible.
Now for the "deep" part of our conversation, the part that relates to the title of this post.  At first glance, one might think this was a Harvard tie. Its crimson, and it has emblematic shields on it. Only its not a Harvard tie.

Its just some nice old tie from Brooks Brothers that I likely paid no more than two bucks for that I happen to like that happens to look quite well with seersucker and a white shirt. I wear it because I like it and because I bought it somewhere, nothing more. True, were someone to wear this tie and pass himself off as a Harvard man when it just wasn't true, he'd be not only a poseur in the truest sense of the word, but also an *sshole. The tie, in that case, would be merely a symptom, not the disease.

There is out there in the wide world a rather large camp of sourpuss types who speak with great disdain about "aspirational" things, by which they mean things that derive from the trappings of old wealth being marketed and sold to the majority of us, the ones who do not descend from that wealth. This has always driven me batty, suggesting as it does that a persons place in society should be decided by the mere circumstance of his birth, and that we should all be relegated to stay in our respective places and be content to adopt an outward appearance that clearly states which rank we were born to, from which we will not be allowed to move. This particular brand of invective is most frequently reserved for Ralph Lauren, but these folks tend not to like the idea of anyone outside their circle receiving an education, speaking and writing well, and on the shallow side, having and wearing nice things.

The fact of the matter is that this birth based class system is on the way out, and so are the social signifiers that the clothing used to carry. For better or worse, no special membership to anything at all is required any longer to wear a repp tie, button down oxford, or even the old "Boston Cracked Shoe" if you so desire. The only thing that entitles anyone to wear anything is availability and the money to buy it. The only things required to pull it off are confidence, style, and a pinch of the old "Devil May Care" attitude. Let's not forget that by now, this is merely one of many particular sartorial aesthetics from which a man may choose, same as the workwear look, or the punk look, ar the hippy look are aesthetics too. All were born long ago and heavily fraught with meaning, but time has worn off the edges, and the better of any of these things remains as a kind of style.

And since when is apiration really a bad thing anyway? Poor kids going to college, aspiring to a better life than they came from, immigrants working hard, aspiring to a better life for their children, or hell, even young hipsters going to the mall to buy "preppy" stuff at J. Crew, aspring to dress better and be more adult than the generation before them...these are all good things, the kind of things that tend to lead to better things as the young folks gradually outgrow the more childish and fashion driven aspects of it all in favor of the meaningful stuff. Sure, we can all cringe at the crass commercialism of the companies that so blatantly cash in on this, and we can complain about the impossible and nonexistent lifestyle for sale in the ads, but really, isn't that what capitalism and advertising are all about? It's here and we can't escape it, but we can make informed choices and use the clothes as a means of expressing in an outward way the person we inwardly are. Isn't that what clothing is all about? You know, once you move beyond the basics of warmth and protection from the elements.

In closing, I'd like to remind the more hardline of the new breed of online  naysayers out there that my own personal definition of poseur extends to cover most of them. In my many years selling both menswear and fine wine in Boston, I've come to know my share of real old money Yankees, and none of them would even acknowledge any of this, at least not in public and certainly not by way of a medium so gauche and common as the internet.

Besides, it's only clothes, after all. Remember?

15 June 2011

Off Season

I've said it before, but it bears no end of repeating: A successful cheapskate knows how to take what he can get when he can get it. It may be June and all, but that's never a good reason to pass up a fine tweed should one turn up in the dirt:
A beautiful number in the perfect shade of medium brown, hard wearing but butter soft, and just my size to boot, no alterations necessary, turned up just the other day. An upgrade, much better than my present piece of brown tweed. Jeans, flannels, khakis...this jacket can take it all.

The herringbone pattern is prominent, but nicely understated. The construction is top notch. Dated 1987, but may as well be brand new.

Sartorial gold from the Andover Shop, and a hell of a score for $11.99.

Take what you can when you can, Thrift shopping is no time to think seasonally.

p.s. ulterior motive: new stuff up in the shop today, including some really glorious tweeds I could neither pass up nor hold onto until the Fall. See theme, along with new Spring/Summer goods, shoes and neckties here.

14 June 2011

Secrets of Thrifting

Successful thrift shopping is a matter of perseverance. This doesn't just mean frequently hunting, or in my case constantly hunting. It also means having the stamina not to quit until every piece of cloth has been picked over. Them you look in the unsuspected spots.

Don't forget the ladies department. Now, I'm not suggesting that you start digging through the dresses looking for men's suits from the Andover Shop, or that neckties of exquisite quality will be found among the nighties. It does mean that if you find yourself in a thrift store well organised enough to have women's accessories separately merchandised, this little corner is well worth a prowl. Each one of the silk pocket squares pictures above was found among women's silk scarves, most for no more than a dollar or two. Truthfully, a couple of them may really be women's scarves, but who cares? Stuffed in a breast pocket with only a pinch showing, it's all the same to me. Oddly enough, almost every surcingle and ribbon belt I own was found this way too. Guess those things just look girly to the un-initiated, or something.

This hat provides an extreme example. I found it like this, looking like one of those sort of 1930s things that were popular with women in the early 1990s. What caught my eye was the material. It's an extremely luxurious black fur felt, so soft to the touch you want to sleep on it. These photos are bad, I know, just take my word for it.
After a small amount of pinching and denting on the crown, and a flip of the brim in back, it revealed itself to be a downright stunning vintage men's hat. I wasn't forcing it, either. This thing literally fell right into this shape, its true one, with ease.
Lined in white satin, from Saks Fifth Avenue,
A damn good piece for $9.99,

and a far more suitable hat should the opportunity for black tie present itself again.

Man Up, and look through the ladies pretty things. You might be glad you did.

10 June 2011

Getting High on My Own Supply

In the comments to the last post, spectator shoes were mentioned. This Summer I have a pair, but shoes like this are best used sparingly. While it's true that the best spectator shoes are of the wing tipped variety, I find that casual loafers are far more easily wearable. While wing tip spectators do look good, they tend to come off as 1930s fetish/costume, whereas loafers are a bit less dated.
Here's an unusual pair. Split toed, brown leather and tan mesh, with a stretch gusset across the top. Really well made, a pair of "Freeman's Fashion Built" shoes. Homework tells me little about Freeman's shoes, other than that they were made in USA, and they faded into the distance in the early '90s. A perfect cinch with grey tropical worsted trousers, tan socks, and a white tennis shirt.

Extreme belt and shoe matching is accomplished with this braided cotton tan surcingle belt.

Both shoes and belt were purchased for resale at the last Top Shelf Flea, but I got hooked and I couldn't let them go. They fit me, and they were irresistible.  It couldn't be helped. Such are the dangers of a life in second hand haberdashery.

Frank Lopez told Tony Montana through his girl Elvira that a big rule of being a successful pusher is "Don't get high on your own supply".

Rules, however, are fairly meaningless if you don't break them occasionally.

08 June 2011

The Dress Tan Suit

Poplin suits can be a great staple for the well appointed gent in Summer, and they're comfortable in their inherent slouchiness. But don't forget the "other" tan suit, you know, the "dressy" one, tan gabardine.
Yet another tan suit by Brooks Brothers in their last heyday, the 1980s. This one is built like any other business suit, rendered in wool. The only difference is the pale tan hue, making it the perfect dress suit for Summer. Once again, all the details are in place: soft shoulders, 3/2 roll, two button cuff, half lining, flat front trousers in a classic cut with cuffed hems. Not bad for $9.99.

Being more of a "proper" suit, this number takes well to dressier touches in the rest of the outfit, such a contrast collared shirt and collar pin, as well as the the tone-on-tone combo of navy and white tie on blue and white shirt. Note that if you're going to attempt an all pale colored ensemble, texture and pattern will be the key to keeping from looking washed out. Note also that the tie is rendered in what should be an awful rayon/acetate blend, but it's cut well and well made, so it gets a pass. However, remember only one cheap element at a time, and occasionally at that. This seemingly crummy tie hides well amongst a Brooks Brothers suit and custom shirt.The late great Richard Merkin had more than a few polyester pocket squares that he hid in the pockets of custom suits. Get it?

 Speaking of pocket squares, I think this cotton one in white with tiny lavender and navy flowers, with juts a whiff of green at the edges, was just the final touch this outfit needed. A real flower in the lapel would have been nice, at a wedding maybe, but hinting at flowers is much less brash most of the time.

Brown suede shoes work well here, and the peacocks among you will delight in these lavender socks, which unfortunately never show their color well in photos.

If you happen to have a job where you can really wear a suit, consider tan gabardine for Summer. It's a style that's due for a comeback. Here I've gone for a bit of the old boulevardier in the rest of the outfit, but I think that with a white shirt, foulard tie and burgundy shoes such a suit would be quite appropriate for many business situations in Summer, especially given the lax state of affairs in most business places these days. When the rest of the staff is showing up in too big tennis shirts tucked into too baggy, too long khakis for the loath "business casual", you can own the place in tan gabardine.

06 June 2011

A Perfect Poplin

This Summer will be my first as owner of a poplin suit. I had this post in my by back pocket for a couple of weeks, but it seems our man in Japan HTJ beat me to it. He offers lots of good back info and as usual plenty of old photos to study for the minute details which separate good poplin from terrible poplin. Still, here's my take on the matter.

Poplin suits are tricky, and if you're going to wear one, you must make sure you get a good one, which isn't always easy. I've seen a lot of them, and let many go. I had about a half dozen of them for sale at the Flea, but Ouiji from The Brooklyn Circus bought them all first thing in the morning. If you live in New York, go see him about it. My own is a vintage Brooks Brothers University Shop, likely from the early 1960s. Besides of course being dirt cheap in some crazy thrift shop, all the right sartorial details for a suit like this are in place.

A bare minimum of shoulder padding, as seen here, and a 1/4 lining are key. This suit should be well made, but softly tailored. After all, it's not really a formal garment. Sporting derived details like the swelled edges and patch pockets are a must. A large open patch breast pocket like this one has is a great bonus, but a detail that is sadly to hard to find today. It adds to the overall casual feel of the suit.

Being a vintage piece, the trousers are flat front, clean cut, with a higher waist.Given the fact that so many designers these days are talking their cues from suits like this, and the early 1960s in general, I wonder why we're still so stuck on the fad of everything a size to small. This suit has "the look", because it's real vintage, but it's also cut to fit a grown man comfortably, because it's real vintage. Honestly, if Brooks Brothers turned out a run of this exact suit tomorrow, they'd be out of stock in a week. Instead, we're stuck with Milano pants and this half *ssed version of a Summer classic. (side note: the point of that vintage Andover Shop tie is way off center, I know. Sometimes I think I should have it pressed, but I kind of like it this way.)

Dark socks with a light suit may have been a bad move, but I felt it kind of worked in the same way that light socks with dark pants sometimes works. I have no doubt, however, that tassel loafers were a perfect choice.

Wash and wear, poly/cotton blend. Normally, I wouldn't consider such a thing, but I must say that these old fabrics from the early days of Dacron are different than what you see today. This stuff is soft, thin and lightweight, not thick and crunchy, or worse, plasticy like modern polyester.I have some wool blend slacks that are some of my favorites too. In the old days, when I worked at Simon's, we used to call the poplins that came in every May "paper suits", because they wore like a brown bag. This one doesn't. Now I know everyone can't run out and buy a vintage suit, which is all the more reason for Brooks Brothers to offer this number again.

Of course, a khaki suit in 100% cotton would be best. But if you should happen across one of these old blended poplins, give it a chance. You might be surprised, as I was, how much you like it.

p.s. new stuff over at the Shop, including a 1980s vintage Brooks Brothers olive poplin suit.

02 June 2011

Worth Every Penny: American Optical Sunglasses

It's well known I do love my RayBans, but they can get heavy on the face when the weather turns hot. Enter the other classic essential sunglasses, the aviator, or as American Optical calls them, the "original pilot".
Sunglasses are one thing I believe are worth spending a few bucks on for a good pair. When you have nice ones, you tend to take care of them, keep track of them, try hard not to sit on them and so forth, and in return you have them forever. So, flush from the recent Top Shelf Flea Market III, my plan was to spoil myself with a pair from Randolph Engineering. But I dig these even better. Allow me to explain.

I wanted the lenses to be that particular green shade, but I didn't know what the terminology was with the Randolphs. So I asked a friend who has served in the military, His answer was forget Randolph, go with American Optical. Just as good, with just as good a provenance, only much less expensive. That, my friends, is speaking my language.

Randolph Engineering glasses are very "in" right now, being the official glasses of the US armed forces and a favorite of Don Draper (you know, that t.v. character who dictates style these days, even though I learned his bag from my grandfather, who sort of was him in real life. Some day, I'll rant about friggin Mad Men). But American Optical were the glasses of choice back in the 1950s. So, if Don Draper were a real person, he would likely have had these instead.

The glasses are sturdy and tough, but feather light to wear. The lenses, which are glass, not only block harmful rays but also heat. Colors remain true to sight through them. They do have logos, but they are so small as to be nearly invisible. A simple "AO" on the arms, tiny, and a tiny "AO" printed on one lens is all. Bayonet style temples seal the deal for me, but the do come in standard style and also wrap around wire. Just like Randolphs.

American Optical has been making glasses in Southbridge Massachusetts since  1826, so these should appeal to the Americana fetishists on both style and origin, as well as history. I don't have any problem supporting Massachusetts business either...just like Randolphs.

Today I actually saw and held a pair from Randolph Engineering, and apart from logos the two are practically indistinguishable. There is, however, one striking difference. Randolph Engineering sunglasses cost $109 or more, American Optical sells for $74. I got mine from Optics Planet for $41.99.

They are worth every penny.