29 December 2012

The Virtues of Patience (or Bang for the Buck)

I recently found the opportunity to wear a new/old shirt that had been hanging in my closet for some time. Made in Italy of very fine cotton, a bargain for $5.49:
Note how nicely pressed it is, courtesy of the Rowenta iron Santa saw fit to bring me. More on the later.
I couldn't find out much about this "Louie" label, but my gut tells me it was a house line from Louis Boston. It's Italian, clearly expensive, and in keeping with the overall style of the clothing that came out of that store in the 90s.
It's touched with all the little details you might expect to find on a custom shirt, like these reinforced tabs at the shirt tails,
nicely rounded cuffs, and very thick buttons.
The contrast club collar is appropriately short, though the collar band is fairly wide, giving it a bit of a 90s look, but in a very Alan Flusser kind of way that I can happily accept.

So, what's this got to do with patience? Readers may remember that back in December of 2009 I received my first made to measure shirt from online outfit Deo Veritas. That shirt, with it's contrast button down collar and three button contrast cuffs, caused no end of stink amongst the commenters who rightly pegged me for a rube. But I liked that shirt and still do. If I weren't an inch bigger in the waist than I was then I'd still wear it. Shortly following, I ordered two more. They arrived in January of 2010. Both were ordered with contrast club collars, and both arrived with a collar round at the tips and long in the points. Not exactly what I or many of you would call a club collar, they too sparked no end of comment. While ironing the shirt pictured today, it occurred to me that this is more what I was after when I placed that second order with Deo Veritas. A similar shirt, in blue and white stripes, but with a better cut club collar and a roomier fit. Back then, I preferred closer fitting shirts, but the older I get the more I appreciate some room to move. Not to take anything away from my experiences with Deo Veritas. The service and quality were great, and I would still recommend them to anyone that asks.

The point, which I'm sure I've made before, is that too much thrift shopping will spoil you. After years of having committed myself to the effort and time commitment, I know that almost anything I want will turn up eventually, even something as unusual as a striped shirt with contrast club collar and round cuffs. It makes it hard to pay full whack for anything after a while. The shirt I had made for $75 languishes now in my closet, while it's $5 replacement will enter the regular rotation. As this photo of laundry drying in the shower proves, blue and white shirts are a silly thing to by at high prices:

So here come the bad advice. What about a gift certificate? Christmas having just passed, I'm sure many of you have some to spend, and the fact that you read this blog means there is a likelihood that you were given that gift certificate because someone knows you're just too damn picky to be given clothing as a gift. When given no choice but to pick out new things, how does one use free money most effectively? I'm of the belief that gift certificates may be best spent on some sort of crazy frivolity, something you would never sensibly by yourself. 

Despite being a fully grown man, my parents still insist on giving me money in an envelope for my birthday. I have long since given up on politely scoffing at the act, and instead accept it graciously and then use it to pay some bill or other. This year, that money was presented in the form of a gift certificate to the Andover Shop (filled out on the old Royal typewriter no less). My father said " now you have to spend it on yourself. Maybe you can go get some new shirts." Well, I just proveed that new shirts are a wasted opportunity. What about that doeskin navy blazer by Southwick I've been eyeing? A good, solid choice, and investment to last me years no doubt. But then good friend and fellow veteran thrift shopper Zach pointed out " The chances of you finding a nice Southwick blazer in 42 regular at a thrift shop are pretty good. Get something crazy." And he's right. Something like pink cords with the wales set horizontally, forward pleats and side tabs, that's more like it.

Nothing allows for a heavy dose of frivolity now and then like a lifetime of patient cheapness.

p.s. my apologies for my recent absence. Call it a self imposed Christmas vacation. I needed it, trust me.

p.p.s. look for a revamp of the Shop next week, after my self imposed Christmas vacation ends.

21 December 2012


Few things are as flattering as a celebrity roast. Read mine, among several deserving others, here. I'm honored. Old Yankee Whisky Papa may be thinner, more well spoken, and better looking than me, but we all know that I'll always be the cheapest.
We should have been old men in the old days..... (George Burns at 11:29)

Those Ain't Pants...

Recently I've been without dungarees. The two pair of Wranglers I bought from Shepler's a while back served me well, but eventually shrunk too much to be comfortable. For a while, I was content to live without them, laboring under some false belief that at 36 years old I was too old for jeans. But then I realized that in November and December I was a bit lost without my old uniform of jeans/bean boots/sweater/Barbour, and truthfully, no well dressed American man's wardrobe can ever be complete without some proper jeans. A few weeks back, Levi's had a one day only 40% off sale with free shipping, so I grabbed two pair of good old 501 shrink-to-fit for $56. Not bad.
So I photographed them, and rinsed them, and got ready to write about the vagaries of denim and denim nerds, but before I got a chance, these came along, eclipsing all other trousers in the house:

These ain't pants, they's PANTS. $5.99 at a thrift shop. No tags, but they are really beautifully constructed of some of the softest, most luxurious bits of tweed I've seen, and fully lined in cotton. I suspect Andover Shop, as they were known for patch tweed. Maybe Charlie can confirm this for me after they come back from alterations.
Best of all, they're true patchwork, no repetition of pattern at all to the arrangement of the squares.  These really are made of scraps, as they should be. Too bad I won't have them back in time for Christmas. Not to worry, though. There's always tartan.
I wasn't going to mention Christmas or holidays at all here if I could help it. Frankly, having worked retail as long as I have, I'm downright sour on the whole thing. If it weren't for my children, I'd be completely insufferable this time of year. But I gotta say, Winter go-to-hell pants do help keep me cheery.

17 December 2012


Last year, I acquired this glen check suit with light blue overcheck in a soft wool and cashmere blend by Hickey Freeman through one of my by now notorious trades with the venerable Mr. De Luca of Newton Street Vintage:
I'd wanted a good glen check suit for some time, and this one had a nice scale to it. Large enough to be prominent, small enough to appear as pale grey flannel from a distance of ten feet. I like glen checks best with an overcheck. In the old days I was certain only red would do, but blue is much more understated and workable. Brings the possibility of navy ties into the picture, despite the general black and with nature of the suit.

A suit like this is what I might call an "extra suit" in that it should really only find its place in a man's wardrobe well after he's acquired suits in navy, charcoal, and perhaps the same with some sort of stripes. For someone like me who never really needs so mach as a tie, let alone a suit, it could be better called an unnecessary frivolity. But so be it.  Oddly, in its way it's more useful to me than a navy or grey suit. Given its more casual connotations, it reads less like a business suit and as such feels more comfortable when worn for its own sake. Besides, dare I say it, it actually works as well as (gasp) two separate pieces as it does a suit. I wouldn't give such grotesquely incorrect advice lightly, so please allow me to explain.

For starters, we can see that the suit works quite well in its complete form. It is well constructed with a soft three button stance, darted front, moderate shoulders and side vents, with forward pleated trousers. This gives it just the level of formality that a suit should have.Sharp enough to be worn "in town" (as though that mattered anymore) but not so stiff as to be bound only for business meetings. In this photo, the camera is set about ten feet back, and the glen check pattern so obvious in the first photo is muted from this distance. True, the right sleeve could be a whiff longer, but let's not pick nits.

The trousers work just as well on their own with a vintage varsity cardigan in a big cut with shawl collar. A navy or black jacket would go just as well for a slightly dressier look, while a heavy black turtleneck sweater would be more casual. True, these trousers are half a suit, but glen check trousers are frequently seen alone as a single garment in their own right. As a side note, for men who actually work in businesses that require suits this look works quite well in the privacy on the office. Wear the suit on the commute, with clients, and at board meetings, keep the cardigan in the office for greater comfort while working behind closed doors.

No problem wearing a solo glen check jacket either, especially with dark grey flannels, aka "the pants that go with everything". Like the trousers, glen check jackets exist alone too, and a light grey jacket is something unexpected these days, though still quite correct. Even my nemesis agrees. A younger man could wear this jacket quite well with dark jeans and a crisp shirt, sans tie. Navy pants, never a favorite of mine, would work too. Just don't pair it with black pants. In fact, unless you're in a tux, don't wear black pants...ever.

This approach doesn't work for most suits, as the separate pieces will always look like just that, pieces separate from their counterparts. Stripes are the most glaring example, but I find a separate navy or charcoal jacket just as orphaned looking. Glen checks, being more about pattern and texture, get a pass, if you're careful and you can pull it off. Go halfsies with a suit like this, and you might get three outfits in one.

11 December 2012

All I Want For Christmas....

...is Winter...Snow shovelling, sledding with the kids, no school today, hot cocoa, two pairs of socks, honest to god old fashioned New England Winter...
This photo was taken in my pantry at 11:30 pm, Monday 10 December, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Please note that the window is not only open, but fully wide open. What happened to Winter? Have we killed it?

Before one of you pounces on me for this, I am fully aware that I have mentioned many times my utter distaste for the particularly Boston habit of complaining about the weather, no matter what it may be. But this is not a complaint. It's more of a lament. You see, I actually enjoy a good proper Winter.

When I was a kid, the snow set in before Thanksgiving and was on the ground until April. It was beautiful to see it and fun to play in it. Despite what many people would see as discomfort, I learned to find a particular quiet beauty in it, a great comfort in piling into my layers of wool, stuffing two pairs of socks into Maine Hunting Shoes, everyone pitching in to clear the way, then coming in to a warm house and fresh cocoa. By this time of year, I'd have had that experience a few times. Lately, it never comes.

Sure, it's nice to have balmy weather, but all the time? I'm the kind of guy who believes that you can't have Yin without Yang, that the beauty of a hot Summer day is pointless without an equally beautiful foot of snow in December. For the last few years, not a day goes by that I don't see someone in shorts, and I'm usually a bit damp with sweat in all the tweed and flannel I still insist on wearing. True, I do love the clothes, and I miss being able to wear them so much, but this isn't really about that. It's about balance, and the new lack of it. 

I don't want to start a political or scientific debate over global warming and climate change. Frankly, I wouldn't be able to keep up. Maybe we've just had some mild Winters. Maybe the climate is just changing. Maybe years from now the concept of a snowy Winter in Boston will be an old time novelty, and there will be fewer of us who remember the good-old-tough-old-days. Should that be the case, i will accept it. After all, we can't really change the weather. But it won't stop me from fondly remembering and silently hoping for a good old two foot snow fall.

All I want for Christmas is my Winter back. 

09 December 2012

Modernist Moment

"Les styles sont un mensonge. Le style c'est une unite de principe qui anime les oeuvrer d'une epoch et qui resulte d'un etat desprit characterize. Notre epoch fixe chaque jour son style. Nos yeux, malheureusment, ne savant pas le discerner encore."

Le Corbusier, "Vers Une Architecture", 1923

07 December 2012

Waxing Rhapsodic

Usquaebach 15 Year Old Scotch Whisky

White lace in a cedar chest, Mikimoto pearls, something borrowed, and something blue. And all of it wrapped in a silk dress pointedly not dry-cleaned after the wedding. A dried white rose reconstituted by someone weeping on it years after the fact. And then left to dry again. Such is the refined nose of the Usquaebach 15. On the mouth, this has more fight and spice than the Reserve. It’s like an overachieving middle child overlooked by parents who coddle the baby and cherish the first-born. This wonderful whisky has a great finish on both the fore and aft of my mouth.

I've worked in the fine wine, spirits, and gourmet food trade for fifteen years now. As you might guess, florid language in reference to the smell and taste of things is something of an occupational hazard. I thought I'd heard it all, had become jaded even. But the description above for Usquaebach 15 Year Old Scotch takes things to a new level. I don't know who wrote it, but I can tell you that it compels to me grab a bottle if only to attempt to connect the deranged dots that this description sets out. If my Christmas bonus looks good enough, maybe I'll grab a bottle and translate that into layman's terms for you in the coming weeks...or not. I don't want to spoil the romance, after all.

05 December 2012

Brown in Town

Since we had such a vigorous discussion on wearing "brown in town", I thought the timing was perfect to share this gem of an item I've been sitting on for some time now.
A vintage tweed suit made of cloth so thick the garment weighs almost as much as I do. No tags, but my educated guess says this is the real deal from England, likely made in the late 1940s or 1950s. Actual country clothing, the kind of brown most definitely not intended for town, though if this were staying with me I'd be hard pressed not to wear it twice a week all Winter despite the concrete beneath my shoes.
It's dificult to do justice to thos fabric in words and pictures. A heavy tweed the likes of which is rarely seen these days, in a barley corn weave of tan and brow. A classic English overcheck in red and burnt orange runs trhough it, as well as a good dose of turquoise, yes turquoise, threads. Outstanding.
All the English details are there : side vents, structured shoulders, a nipped waist, three button cuffs with the bottom two functional, and hacking pockets with the pattern perfectly aligned.
The trousers have a high waist with a 14 inch rise, and a pretty serious fishtail back, combined with 1 3/4 inch cuffs (turn ups) and a relatively narrow 8 1/2 inch leg opening.
A button fly with a heavy steel hook at the top, forward plaets and brace buttons finish the job. The fishtail is a full four inches higher than the front waist band. This is a serious garment, a relic of a manner of dress which I see rapidly disappearing in my own lifetime.

The suit is a 42 long with a 37 waist an 31 1/2 inch inseam. If it fits you, visit the Ebay auction by way of the link in the sidebar and it can be yours. If, like me, it doesn't fit you, drool over it and wish it did. May its next owner combine it with a tattersall shirt, wool tie, high top perforated wing tip boots, a rifle, dogs, a flask of single malt and some dreary, damp weather.  Auction ends 12 December.

p.s. many new items hitting the shop soon. Stay tuned.

p.p.s. more of the usual jibber jabber to come, less shameless salesmanship.

p.p.p.s. despite what the arcane rules may state, if you have an iconoclastic streek you can wear this "in town".  I know I would.

30 November 2012

Casual, not Sloppy

The word "casual" gets bandied about in reference to clothing or the situations in which we wear clothing so much that it's definition tends to get blurred. For a guy like me who actually enjoys clothing and dressing to suit the occasion, it's all but become a dirty word. It shouldn't be. I may have a habit of being what many consider "overdressed" much of the time, but I'm not such a stiff that I don't know how to wear casual clothing in casual situations.
The outfit above is something I consider to be casual, but adult. A striped button down shirt, favorite vintage wool crew neck sweater and soft flannel pants. In it, I am comfortable and warm, but I also feel like a grown man to be taken seriously. A younger fellow, or someone more fashion conscious, might try the same thing with dark jeans and come off just fine. Topped with a Barbour jacket and tweed cap, this outfit saw me through taking a small child to a doctors appointment, lunch and ice cream to follow, a trip to a thrift shop, after school pick up, playground time, and a night shift at work. I was comfortable and appropriately dressed for each of these situations.

I'm not about to go on some silly rant about how "casual" means a tweed jacket and tie with cords and loafers. There was a time when this was true, but we simply do not live in that time anymore. Ranting about things like men who wear brown shoes in the city and the fact that we no longer wear black tie to dinner at home is not only pointless, it marks one as an out of touch curmudgeon with little better to do than complain about what everybody else is or isn't doing. However, it's not a bad idea to remind ourselves that casual doesn't necessarily mean sloppy. You won't see me out of the house in my pyjamas, and the older I get the less likely it is you'll see me even in jeans. For men who care about clothing, it can be challenging these days to dress in a manner they consider appropriate while not looking like a stiff. As unfortunate as this may be to some of us, it helps to remember that you can be casual and well dressed simultaneously, despite what the world at large may be telling you.

This is my kind of casual:

p.s. If only Ralph Gleason would get off the stage. It's embarrassing.

28 November 2012

Keeping Warm, English and Italian Style

My apologies for my recent absence. After plenty of time burning the candle at both ends, a fella runs out of gas and needs some rest. Time to turn in early and hide out for a bit, keeping warm under a vintage blanket:
Hudsone Bay Comapny Point Blanket, possibly 1940s

so soft, so warm, found by Mrs. G., the inveterate blanket expert, less than $10

Wacky, sexy, Italian movies of the early 1960s, especially the ones starring Sophia Loren, provide welcome entertainment for a guy who is both obsessed with old stuff and actually Italian:

p.s. I've also been plenty busy preparing for the upcoming White Eagle Bazaar. If you live around Boston, don't miss it.

23 November 2012

Reader Questions : Dark Shirts

Reader Stefano writes:

Can a dark shirt be worn with a tie? Long sleeved, that's obvious.

For instance: I own a burgundy OCBD and an olive green, tone-on tone french-cuffed one, both from reputable albeit less-known Italian craftsmen.

I've often read that when a shirt is dark, it can't be worn with a tie, but I've sometimes matched those with a brighter tie and a really dark suit, and they seem to work.

As with most such quandaries in the realm of menswear, there is a short, rule-bound answer and a much longer one involving vague concepts of personal taste and attitude. In this case the short answer is "no". When wearing a coat and tie, it is best to have a light colored shirt. That answer will keep the pedantic rule followers happy.

The long answer is not so simple, and has more to do with a function of personal choice and the situation in which you'll wearing the clothes. In the above photo, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., regarded by many as one of the best dressed men of all time, is seen in a double breasted suit with a black shirt and a tie. I think he pulls it off, but there is a slim possibility that my opinion is being influenced by the fact that its Douglas Fairbanks. I couldn't do this, but maybe you can. In the past I used to try this look occasionally, but remember that my style was a little more garish in my youth then I realized at the time.

I think for serious business or somber occasions, a light shirt with a dark suit and tie is best. It's a tried and true combination that will always be correct. Dark shirts show a greater consciousness of fashion, and as such they are less appropriate for situations where the attention should not be on a mans clothes. However, this is not to reject them out of hand. A dark shirt can give a certain casual air to a suit, if done properly. And a darker shirt with a tweed and corduroys can have it's moments too. If you are going to try this look, my advice would be to avoid sheen at all costs. Stick with matte fabrics that have some texture in the weave so as to invoke a country, weekend vibe. But tread lightly, here. There are a lot of negative connotations that can easily be brought into the mix. Black shirts with suits scream "Mafia" to many people. Guys my age and older still cringe at reminders of the sartorial disaster that was "tone on tone" shirt and tie combinations back in the 1990s.  And there's always the very real risk of looking like a sleazy lawyer.
There is no real right answer to a question like this. There was once, but not anymore. These days, the very fact that you're even asking these kinds of questions and thinking about what you're wearing and how it is perceived puts you far ahead of the pack. Let your own taste, style and level confidence be your guide. Just be careful.

p.s. bet you never would have believed me of I told you I'd tie Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Saul Goodman together on a sartorial matter.

19 November 2012


An Affordable Wardrobe and Newton Street Vintage,
together again
at the White Eagle Bazaar, Saturday, 1 December, Noon till 5pm
Polish American Club, 747 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

15 November 2012

The Jams

Burt Bachrach, Dionne Warwick, mid century office furniture.


14 November 2012

Cheaper Than Cheap

For those of you who say I never share my sources, I'll throw you a bone:
If you live in Massachusetts, print and clip this coupon for 25% off your purchase at any Goodwill save the outlet in Boston now through 30 November. That's cheaper than cheap. The full pdf can be found here.

I won't give you directions to the Goodwill. You'll have to do that homework yourself. Lucky for you any search engine will turn this info up in seconds.

Don't say I never gave you nuthin'.

12 November 2012


The "Continental" cut, broad shouldered with a full chest and low button stance, rendered in rich blue wool serge. An excellent example of the style, circa 1956.
Three open patch pockets, sewn on by hand, and old fashioned creased sleeves.

Roped shoulders, an Italian touch. This is, after all, Continental.

A ventless back, in keeping with the style, a skeleton lining and beautiful finish work on the seams.

The trousers are deeply pleated, with full cut legs that taper to large cuffs at the hems. Note the low set of the belt loops and exterior brace buttons.

From Jack Lipton of Boston.

A little while back, I received a phone call from a peppy octogenarian named Ina. She had seen me in the Boston Globe and wanted to know if I might be interested in looking at some menswear she was cleaning out of the attic. I scheduled a meeting and drove to her house a few days later.

As it turned out, my little girl was in tow for this particle "hunting trip". I prefer to do these things alone, but this time it just didn't work out. As we rang the bell and waited, my daughter clung to my leg in shyness. The door opened, and we were met by a sweet old lady in a dress, nylons, heels and pearls, fully made up at home. She melted at the sight of my girl, and the feeling was reciprocated. Young and old, fast friends at first sight.

Ina had dragged a bunch of her husbands things down from the attic. Having been ten years since his passing, her daughter had urged Ina that it might be time to let some of his things go. She was ready to clean out the house, but I could tell it had taken her some time to prepare. As my daughter enjoyed a cookie and milk in Ina's fantastically cute 1970s kitchen, I had a look at the clothes. There were a couple of good tweeds, some flannel pants, and this blue suit. Ina told me that this suit was the one her late husband Sydney wore at their wedding in 1956. Jack Lipton, as she recalls, was the place to go when you wanted something really special with a bit of European flair. For normal clothes, they shopped at Filene's. This suit was worn only a handful of times, and well kept. Sydney was an electrician, she explained, and rarely wore dress clothes. She was the one with the clothes madness, it seems. She picked out all of these duds for him, but old Sydney was game, and not afraid to wear her picks, not even the pink flannels.

We agreed on a price/consignment plan, but as I got ready to take the clothes out to my car, I could see her hesitate a bit. "You know, Ina", I said, "you don't have to sell me any of this stuff. If you're not comfortable with this, we don't have to do it. If I leave here empty handed, it's no difference to me. I don't want you to be unhappy about this."

She paused for a minute, looked up and said "It's o.k. I know his things will be in good hands with you."

"I promise to do what I can to find Sydney's clothes good new homes."

When we left, Ina gave my girl a hug, and my girl said "I love you, Ina." I swear to god, its a wonder we didn't all burst into tears on the spot.

In this line of work, I come across things in all sorts of random and crazy ways. But it's times like these, the people I meet and the stories they tell about the provenance of the clothes I handle, that really make this worthwhile. I often talk about the meaning that clothes have beyond the simple physical fact of what they are, and if this story doesn't illustrate that I don't know what will.

So, if you happen to wear a 42 short and have the confidence to carry off a sharply tailored mid-century Continental look in a well made garment that is in like new condition, consider this suit. Help me keep my promise to Ina.

10 November 2012

A Blessing (and/or) A Curse

I tidied up my closet today. A big part of that job involved re-organizing my neckwear. For a guy who is practically never required to wear a tie, I have a lot of ties. True, I may have paid less than $5 for any of them, but still...

I have yet to decide whether this is a blessing or a curse...and achievement or the sign of a problem.

07 November 2012

Winter Welcome

Boston saw her first real snow fall today, and I for one welcome it with open arms. Of course, nearly every conversation I had was peppered with complaints, as complaining about the weather, no matter what it may be, is something of a New England pastime. I think we've gotten too soft around here with our recent mild Winters, and I remember when I was a child that snow began to fall in November and didn't stop until April. I view today's weather as a reassuring sign that perhaps mankind has yet to ruin everything. Besides, when you have cold weather, you get to wear tweed.
Tattersall check cotton flannel shirt by Polo, $5.49, old vintage no name wool sweater, $3.99, pretentious ascot, $1.99, vintage English balmaccan coat, $7.99

Blue pencil stripe oxford button down with unlined collar by Lands' End, $5.49, vintage 1970s Rooster "Heatherknit" tie in wool/mohair blend, $1.99, Andover Shop tweed jacket, $8.99

Vintage English tweed jacket, coming soon to the AAW shop, wool challis tie by Polo, coming soon to AAW shop

How can you complain about a little snow when the clothes are this good?

03 November 2012

Book Review: 100 Years of Menswear

A few weeks ago, the kind folks at Laurence King Publishing sent me a copy of one of their new books, 100 Years of Menswear, by Cally Blackman, with the request that I review it here. Since  books are my favorite kind of blog-related free swag to pick up, I of course said yes. Forgive me if I'm a little late to the party with this one. I realize that reviews of this book have been popping up all over in the last few weeks. 

I think this is a fun book. Mostly, it's a photo book with very little text at the front end of each section. That's fine with me, given that it doesn't seem to be intended as a definitive tome on the social ramifications of menswear, but rather a compendium of photos spanning a little of everything men have worn in the last 100 years.What strikes me most about it is the diversity of styles the author sees fit to include. If you're looking for (yet another) sycophantic pin-up book about the long lost splendor of the 1930s, this book isn't for you. If however you realize that the sharp elegance of the magic old days is but one piece in a much vaster puzzle, than you may find something to like here.

Of course, we have the requisite illustrations of the 1930s which the menswear blogs have deemed we are now required to drool over...
and late nineteenth century photos and illustrations of men in morning dress, or playing tennis in white flannel suits, or hunting in tweed three piece suits with plus fours. Like so many other menswear bloggers, I love that stuff, but as someone who also has a checkered past in rock n roll, I realize that these things are far from the full story, and so apparently does Ms. Blackman. She managed to amass in a relatively small book lots of great examples of artistic sub-cultural clothing, every bit as much "menswear" as a top hat and tails.

We have original 1960s Jamaican rude boys, in sharkskin suits, skinny ties, and baggy military surplus coats.
Crazy space aged stuff from the 1970s.
And every form of music related dress code, including androgynous glam, zoot suits, and punk rockers like the ones pictured here.

So much of what we read these days on the topic of such an ambiguous term as "menswear" tends to be rather narrow minded. We like to hone in on our own particular point of interest while failing to even acknowledge that anything else existed. We get hung up on particular moments in the past, and paint them romantically to suit our own ideal of it. We create rigid sets of rules which may or may not have actually existed. This book isn't called "A Guide to Ivy League Fashion", or "Best of Laurence Fellows", because those things are not the whole story in menswear, and as such this book attempts to cover it all. You may not like everything you see in this book, and you don't have to. Personally, I find there to be as many things that I find silly as there are things that inspire me here. But that's the point. Men have worn everything in this book at one time or another. Hippies, punks, businessmen, soldiers, coal miners, artists, and athletes all wore something we can call "meswear".  Knowing the full history of any given topic is always more useful than a rose colored and edited version, and Ms. Blackman has given us a concise set of thumbnails that embraces the full story. I like that.

31 October 2012

Reader Questions : Shoe Shines

Reader Jonathan writes:

I am a novice when it comes to proper shoe care. I recently attended an outdoor wedding which required a hike down a gravel road. Needless to say, my shoes are now a dusty mess. I would like to begin taking care of my shoes properly, which means learning how to polish them. I am not sure where to begin to find the right supplies. What are the essential elements for a starter shoe care kit? The Hanger Project would have me believe that $195 is what I need to get started. I am not about to spend that much on shoe care. What can you recommend?

Thank you, Jonathan. The best questions are often the simplest ones. The short answer here is that anything for sale on The Hanger Project is all well and good for men who are extravagant enough to spend as much on small items as many people spend on rent or feeding a family, but any sensible person, regardless of income, can and should be able to have the same things at a fraction of the cost. We've discussed this here before on the topic of wooden hangers. As always, my advice is that your money, however limited, is better spent on the clothing itself than on the periphery care items that come in tow.

Vitriol aside, I applaud your conviction that good shoes are something worthy of proper care. The very fact that you even want to know how to polish shoes puts you ahead of so many these days. But allow me to say that my vitriol is far from misplaced. Simply put, all the shoe care items any normal man, even a clotheshorse, is likely to need can be readily had at your nearby Rite-Aid, CVS, Duane Read, Walgreen's or supermarket. Should you be lucky enough to still live in a town where a cobbler plies his trade, so much the better. If you do, ask him what he thinks of paying $195 for shoe polish, rags, and brushes. He'll either laugh outright  or get in touch with Mr. Allison himself for a quick tutorial on how to spot a sucker.

The first step in basic shoe care is cleaning excess dirt off the leather. There are many expensive cloths and salves that accomplish this, but I prefer an old t-shirt cut in squares, wetted in the sink with warm water and wrung out. Cost: $0.00. For really grimy shoes, try an old toothbrush.

Next, apply polish with a dauber. Mine are Kiwi, one for black polish and one for brown, purchased ages ago for less than $5.00 each. Then, rub of excess polish while working it into the leather. Again, old t-shirts work just fine.

Now comes the buffing. You'll need a proper wide, soft bristled brush for this. Mine not only came from CVS for about $6.00, but has lasted 15 years. As for the polish itself, Meltonian, an SC Johnson company, makes a fine cream polish that sells for about $3.50, while Kiwi is my go to choice for wax, about $5.00.

Sure, there are fancier products, but as I said before, your money is better spent on the shoes than the polish. I've been polishing shoes my whole life with the products I mentioned, and I find the results to be great, so long as you know how to shine the shoes. For more on that, the internet has no end of instructional videos. I reiterate: this stuff is widely available in nearly every pharmacy, hotel, airport, corner store, supermarket and cobbler shop in the country. If rich men feel the need to further aggrandize themselves by spending more on shoe polish than most of us do on food, so be it. It's gratifying to know that they are just as gullible, and often more so, than us regular folk.

Hope that helps.

30 October 2012

Cabin Fever

When the hurricane comes to town and you get shut in for the day, it can be hard to fight the old cabin fever. True, its only one day, but one day locked up can drive us modern city types crazy. You can either feed the disease by staring out the back door wondering if the rotten old tree in the neighbors yard is going to fall on your house (which it didn't, thankfully),
...or you can take the opportunity to cook something for six hours or more, just for the Hell of it. For me, this means channeling the ghost of my Nonna and cooking up some serious old school tomato sauce. Since I certainly wasn't dressing for anything yesterday, and since its a been a while since we geeked out about food here, I thought it was time.
The whole thing begins at 11 am with some very thick cut, country style pork ribs. For other recipes, meat like this is way too fatty, but trust me, after an entire day in the pot that fat is going to melt away into the sort of robust, earthy flavor so satisfying during such bad weather. It's a flavor that cannot be imitated in any health conscious or low fat way, but since we rarely slow down enough to eat this way, who cares?

After a liberal seasoning of salt and pepper is applied, the ribs are browned in a heavy pot over high heat in olive oil. This shouldn't take more than a few minutes per side.
After the meat has browned, throw in a chopped white onion and five or six cloves of mashed garlic, along with a liberal dose of red wine. Let the meat cook in the wine for a bit, turning once.
I firmly believe that it is a wasteful sin to put good wine in the sauce pot, but I don't abide the use of junk in any situation. Salvalai Valpolicella is a dry if simple Northern Italian red that can be had for $8.99 where I live. Cheap enough for the sauce but drinkable enough for a pizza. The bottle I grabbed was missing its front label. Call it taking one for the team.
Next in is the tomatoes. In truth, any brand of canned tomatoes will do, but if you can get them I prefer Pomi chopped tomatoes in the paper carton. They are a bit more expensive than some brands, but still only $1.99 a carton. Imported from Italy, they are brighter with a fresher taste and no other ingredients than tomatoes and they're juice. I find the chopped kind to have just the right consistency, cooking down beautifully into a chunky sauce.
For this sauce I used two cartons. After pouring in the tomatoes, loosen the meat from the bottom of the pan. This insures that it won't stick to the pan, and allows the sauce to flow under and around it. Up to this point, the whole process takes about twenty minutes. Like all great Italian cooking, the beauty lies in its sheer direct simplicity. All that's left to do is put the lid on slightly ajar, turn the flame to the lowest setting, and wait until dinner time. Occasionally move the meat around a bit, and enjoy the smell that will soon fill the entire house as you look contentedly from your favorite chair at the howling storm outside.
Cooking wine is one thing, but drinking wine is another. A meal like this is a celebration really of the fact that for once we can all slow down, even if our relaxed pace was forced on us by Mother Nature. As such, despite my consummate cheapskate-ism, I decided that something special was in order. Fabiano Amorone della Valpolicella Classico 2007 is a big, gutsy wine. Tight as a fist when its first open, I decanted this bottle at Noon and left it aside until dinner. At $50 a bottle, it sure isn't cheap, but you get what you pay for. Besides, you know I didn't actually pay that much for it.  Working in the wine trade has its advantages.

Come 6:00 pm, I boiled a pot of water to cook up some pasta to serve with it. The meat was so tender it fell from the bone, and a fork was all that was needed. This kind of food takes me back to my childhood, when the house was constantly filled with the comforting smells of slow food such as this. Back then my Nonna did the cooking, but she did it in the same kitchen, and for me that's something special. 

Since this is ostensibly a clothing blog, I suppose I should mention that I spent the day in an old pair of olive green cords and a worn plaid shirt, both by Brooks Brothers, with a pair of Toms on my feet, because dammit, they are comfortable. I showered, but I didn't shave.

I have to admit, I enjoyed the hurricane. In fact, I could use a day like that more often, so long as a tree doesn't fall on the house.