16 November 2011

Read The Right Label ; Read The Label Right

Brand names and labels are such a tricky beast, especialy when it comes to second hand shopping. Some are a guarantee of quality, others a guarantee of brand marketing. Most fall somewhere between the two. A label can be a household name and represent nothing but crap, or a label can be something you've never heard of and represent real quality.Sometimes a label can be a real surprise, if you learn to look at it after you look over the garment and judge it on its own merit. For example:

Here's a really nice tweed jacket. It has soft shoulders, high cut notch lapels and a two button darted front with just the right amount of waist supression. A good combination of English and traditional American detailing makes this piece both comfortable and sharp. And check that check: pattern matching from body to sleeve is pretty tight.
A perfect shade of gray tinted tan, with a large but faint windowpane plaid in brown and rust. ..
...with real braided leather buttons...
...and rendered in Scottish woven camel hair cloth, soft and luxurious to the touch.
Read the Right Label: Maybe you're not from the Boston area, or if you are maybe you're to young to remember, or don't remember, Kaps mens clothing stores. They were the real thing, since 1885. In the old days, when I worked at Simon's, Kaps stores, and the Kapelson family who owned them, were referred to with the due respect and mild jealousy befitting a worthy rival. Good stuff, always priced fairly but at it's worth, which was never cheap. Kaps was sort of a "poor man's Andover Shop", if such a phrase could possibly make even a shred of sense.

So far, nothing should be surprising about this jacket. Its well made, it comes from a sadly long gone local Massachusetts mens shop, and it's styled just how I like it. But there is a surpirse;
Read the Label Right: Chaps is like some kind of fourth rate label from Ralph Lauren for the malls and off price stores, right? Crappy junk meant only to create revenue through brand name licensing, right? I thought Kohl's owend it, right?

Maybe so, but not always, not like this. In the pre-over-seas-labor days, much of Ralph's stuff was high quality union made goods from the USA, and the Chaps brand was no exception.  In the days before brand names were just a commodity to license and sell, Chaps was turning out the goods. I may not specifically remember Chaps as a brand in such a light, but I do remember Kaps as a store in such a light, and I know they never sold junk. Buying this jacket used in not so much wearing yet aniother piece of Ralph's clothes as it is hiniring the Kapelsons.

Reading this blog, you may think that I just trip over $1000 suits for a buck every time I walk out the door, but believe me, it takes a lot of patience and study to pull this off.

p.s. the above jacket, along with many other new items, is up in the Shop. A shameless plug, perhaps, but a plug nonetheless.


Young Fogey said...

Read the label.

What excellent advice!

But you gotta know what you're looking at.

I have in my collection a tweed jacket with a "Polo University Club by Ralph Lauren" label. Made in the USA, I bought it new in the 80s. This now-defunct RL line was apparently an entry-level RL line, said to be analogous to Brooksgate. I still wear it regularly, and it still looks and wears great.

The rest of the label tells the rest of the story: Nordstrom. I trust Nordy's to provide quality goods.

I also recently bought a jacket that fits me like a glove: Mani by Armani. Mani is also defunct, and was also an entry-level line. Made in Italy, it is a beautiful piece. The other label? Macy's. Macy's is not at the same level as Nordstrom, but it's not an automatic rejection notice (like modern Stafford is).

Anonymous said...

This is a very important post, and it brings some clarity to a question I've had for quite some time. As a fellow thrifter, this is going to stay in the back of my head when I'm out there, as I've passed up several items that have come from diffusion lines, despite seeming very nice.

Wrenkin said...

The other year I had a similar discovery at a consignment shop. A heavy, fuzzy blackwatch jacket with a half belt in back, two patch pockets, swelled edges and brass buttons. Obviously old, but incredibly sturdy and it had held up well. Chaps, for Britches of Georgetown.

randall said...

Hard to imagine a time when Lawrence was a go to spot for fine men's wear.

Gents Outfitters said...

I have come across lots of early Chaps pieces and have always found them to be sharp looking and well made.

Some of my favorites are a chambray button down with a flap breast pocket and a heavy linen jacket with a pleated, half belted back like Jack Nicholson wears in Chinatown. great fun!

Giuseppe said...


Incredible, I know, but there you have it.


Chaps deifnitely laid on the 1930s detailing pretty thick in the old days.

Young Fogey said...


Wow. You're fortunate to have gotten such great pieces. I'd love to have a half-belted back jacket. I guess I should be happy that I can find anything decent at all.

thenewshaikued said...

Whether I recognize the labels or not (and quite often not when thrifting) I can typically find a union-made tag of some kind inside an interior jacket pocket.

18milesperhour said...

Funny, I just scored an extremely well-made, USA-crafted, perfectly fitting and hanging Chaps navy blazer at a thrift store the other day and went through the same thought process. This thing is just the best navy blazer I've come across. Pleasantly surprised on so many levels.

Old Timer said...

There was a time when "just the right amount of waist supression" meant no waist supression at all.

Those were the days, my friend.

Young Fogey said...

Old Timer,

An undarted jacket does not necessarily lack waist suppression. The effect can also be achieved through altering the sides and the back--though there is a very good reason why the look with an undarted jacket is called a "sack suit."

NCJack said...

Ralph brands have been all over the place, and I went many years before I saw a piece that I thought wasn't a joke played on the well-off rube or poseur. This is why it pays to learn a little about cloth, stitching, canvassing, etc.

ADG said...

Chaps...along with Polo University and Colours by Alexander Julian were all made by a company called Greif...back in the late 1970's/early 1980's. The stuff was made here in the States and it was, for the money, solid quality. I step below Hart-S-Marx but not too far below. The Trad shop that I worked in after school sold the Chaps brand by Greif and it was nothing to be ashamed of. I think nowadays, all of that stuff is made..."elsewhere"...

oxford cloth button down said...

Great find.You are so right. Patience is the key to thrifting.