29 March 2012

"Do Nothing At All...."

We don't have a t.v. in our house. I'm not mentioning that fact by way of being an obnoxious yuppie who likes to brag about such things, but only as an explanation of the fact that I've never heard of the horror that follows until today:

Mrs. G. found one of these gems still in the box at a thrift store today and kindly sent me photos. Ever seen one of those movies where some guy gets to see into the future but some wise old lady tells him not to do it because what he sees may not be good but he looks anyway only to discover the old lady was right?  Or the ones that take place in the not too distant future where everyone is all bland and smiling except for this one outcast who feels that we may have paid more dearly than we know for all of this beloved convenience we've achieved? That's how I felt when I saw this.

"Lazywear"?!?!? Yikes!

27 March 2012

Breaking the Law

I know its wrong. I should know better. But we all slip sometimes.
I wore a double breasted blazer with a button down collar. Worst of all, I liked it, and I'll probably do it again. Yet another affront to the tender sensibilities of the sartorial nit pickers. Or is it?

Don't worry. I'm not going to use the fact that Fred Astaire was known for this in a misguided and arrogant effort to compare myself to such a sartorial giant. But when I think about it, I remember Harold Simon doing this all the time, as did a number of other men of traditional style who possessed a bit of flair back when I worked at a men's shop in high school. My point is, this wasn't so uncommon as we'd like to think. It may be against the rules, but it can add a nice quirk to an otherwise conservative outfit. In the eyes of any clothes nerd nit pickers you might run into. Truth is, 99% of people you meet won't care, or even know the difference anyway. (the jacket is double breasted with a center vent too, will the sacrilege never end?)

p.s. the Shop is stocked with new items. As for other things I should know better about, I've put up some serious heavyweight vintage Winter camping gear I just found, when any sensible store would be stocking Spring/Summer. Like they say, though, the time to buy an antique is when you find it. Lot's of seasonal stuff there too. Check it out.

23 March 2012

Reader Questions : One for the Ladies

An Affordable Wardrobe is proud to feature our first query proferred by a female reader. It's reassuring to know that I have a female readership here, and admittedly a bit frightening to think that a woman would ask my advice on how to shop for clothes, but I am honored to make an attempt.
Reader Natalie writes:

I know you have a general rule to not share decent thrift store locations, but I was wondering if you would be willing to bend that principle and share locations where there are decent options for the fairer sex. Perhaps I have been looking in all the wrong places, but my explorations into various consignment stores and goodwills around Cambridge have turned up nothing but heavily dated clothing and unreasonable prices. I ask simply because it is not as though I would be encroaching on your territory, and new, good quality clothing for women is either non-existent, or wallet killing.

The short answer to the specific question is that I really don't know where to look for good women's clothing on the extreme cheap. Frankly, I don't even glance at that stuff when I'm out "hunting", so I don't even need to break my vow of silence to answer you truthfully. My apologies.

However, this is a great question because it gets at a lot of broader issues that warrant our attention here, and that's what my focus will be.

When it comes to clothing in general, women are simultaneously at an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage comes in the fact that women's clothing offers a far wider variety of expressive forms than men's clothing ever will. Exotic fabrics, asymmetry, bold color combinations, stylish anachronism and androgyny are only a few of the tricks women can use that men simply can not touch. But that's also the curse in some ways, especially as it applies to second hand shopping.

I've often heard it said that fashion is mainly for women while tradition is a man's game. It may be true that fashion for men does in fact exist, but the strong suit of menswear is it's relative immutability. The suit, sports jacket and shirt and tie combo as we know has remained relatively unchanged for nearly two hundred years. Just look at the men in the illustration above, circa late nineteenth century. They are wearing suits and ties, not that far different than a suit and tie today. Take away the hats and stiff shirt collars and their clothes are a form of what the well dressed man still wears to this day. This makes it easier for a man to shop thrift, for a well cut jacket rendered in good cloth will not only flatter him be it fifty years or two days old, it will likely fit in seamlessly with his existing wardrobe.

Women's clothing, on the other hand, is known for undergoing constant seismic shifts in style. Year to year, season to season, the rules are constantly changing on a drastic level. See the lady in the illustration, out of place when taken out of her time. While this means that for the ladies there is always something new and fun to try out, I feel it is generally a trick designed to appeal to the misogynistic idea that "women love to shop", and so force them to keep shopping. For this very reason, more women's clothing seems to be produced cheaply of cheap cloth, and as such it also appears "dated" in a way that is more glaring than with menswear.

There is a bright side in all this. I've been fortunate to know many women of style in my life, and they've all been able to incorporate very clearly "horribly dated" vintage items into their everyday wardrobes far more effortlessly than most men can. For example, the right woman can wear a 1967 era sun dress in large scale paisley to a casual party with much greater ease and aplomb than a man can wear a velvet suit and neckerchief to the same party. The right woman can wear 1970s fully flared high waisted faded jeans with a brand new top a lot easier than a man can wear white stacked heel loafers with his navy blue suit today. The right woman can wear men's clothes in a feminine way better than a man can wear women's clothes in a masculine way. Women may have to work a lot harder at it, since the rules are not set in stone for the ages the way they are for men, but they also get to have a lot more fun and indulge in a greater deal of expressive creativity than most men could ever dream of.

 As for the so called "classic styles" I can only offer the same advice I give my male readers: get a good tailor and make a friend of them. Classics are great, but don't forget you can tweak them. You may find a lot of well made pleated skirts from the late 1980s that look a bit frumpy, but what if you shortened them an inch or two?  What if you took the shoulder pads out of that beautiful wool blazer and had them replaced with softer ones? What if you just said "no" to that awful Christmas sweater, realizing that irony is best used in theatre, not your own clothes?

So, to return to the actual question at hand, I'm afraid I simply cannot help....but I'm glad you asked. My warmest thanks to Natalie and all my lady readers.

22 March 2012

Secrets of Thrifting: Keep an Open Mind

It's been interesting to watch the explosion of menswear writing online over the past few years in the form of blogs, fora, and other sites. Along with that, its been gratifying for a guy like me to realize that he's "not the only one" who cares about this stuff. Apparently, far from it, in fact. More and more men, especially younger ones, seem to be taking an active interest in how they present themselves, and with it has come some small return to a gentility we've been lacking for too long. Bravo!

There is, of course, a down side to this. There is an underlying tendency among many of these online resources to encourage personal pigeon holing. The "preppy" guys only do preppy, and are ready at a moments notice to decry anything that falls outside of their own iron clad code of rules. So too the European tailoring guys, the British Savile Row guys, and so forth. Heaven help the fellow who dares to appreciate more than one school of thought, or worse, actually attempt to combine them within his own wardrobe. It borders on fetishism. This kind of close-mindedness will only spell defeat for anyone attempting to build a suitable wardrobe built on thrift shop finds and ingenuity. Keeping an Open Mind may in fact be rule #1 of successful thrifting.
For today's example, I offer this jacket.  100% silk tweed by Polo, made in USA, $5.49. I suspect given its US provenance that this coat dates from the 1990s some time. Generally speaking, I prefer a natural shoulder, undarted, three button jacket. This coat has a more built up shoulder, hanging a bit off my natural shoulder in a soft drape kind of way. It's two button and darted, with a lower button gorge and a high cut notch in the lapel. It's also a hair tight, but that's what happens when 80 plus temperatures hit you two months before you've gotten into your "Summer body". Hell, I only got the bikes out three days ago.
Its even got four button cuffs, a veritable sacrilege to the "Ivy" crowd. It's not "preppy", it's not "Ivy", it's barely "Trad", and because it's Polo, a million other nitpickers will find ways to hate it. Those are the things it ain't.

What it is is a well made jacket rendered in beautiful silk tweed in my size for less than ten bucks. A perfect coat for an unseasonably warm day in March. It looks well paired with a white shirt with short pointed spread collar (not a rolling button down) and an Italian knit tie.
Adding insult to injury are the forward pleats and side tabs on these Italian made Ralph Lauren pants.

My point is this: I may generally prefer a style based on the basic tenets of American traditional tailoring, but I won't toss an item away out of hand if it happens to lie just outside of those guidelines. Nice clothes are nice clothes, and fortunately for men, the minute details that differentiate one style from another are just that: minute. Truth be told, the only people likely to notice these little things are fellow clothing dorks. The rest of the world just sees a guy who looks nice in nice clothes. Additionally, real style is found in easy blending of various elements, not in rigid adherence to secret codes. In that regard, being at the chaotic mercy of the thrift store can actually help a man sharpen his skills in a way that makes his eye keen and his choices solid.

All this only works if you keep an open mind.

19 March 2012

Another Whiff of Spring

Pasty white ankles. I'll be damned if I'm going to wear shorts in March, but I will leave the socks at home when the temperature reaches sweaty levels. A whiff of Spring, just a whiff.

p.s. with Mother Nature threatening 80 degrees in the next few days, I've decided it's time to clear out the coats and tweed. Winter items at deep discount in the Shop right now. Click on the Sale! icon in the sidebar to go there directly.

p.p.s sorry for all the shilling lately. Back to our usual programming tomorrow.

16 March 2012

My Office

Known as the "dining room" by the rest of family, on a busy week it looks like this:
We do in fact eat at this table...occasionally. But this is a far more common site. I used to work in the basement, but I find the atmosphere in the house proper to be far more cozy.

p.s. a busy week for me is good news for you. All the items pictured, and more, are available in the Shop. Items from Chipp, Polo, Brooks Brothers, and J. Press. A ton of ties, tennis sweater, vintage suits, shoes and more. Check it out.

12 March 2012

Torture and Anguish

Warning: if you're the sort of person who is a sartorial nit-picker, trolling the internet looking for evidence of someone having broken some inconsequential minutiae in a  hardbound book of rules of dress that no longer exists just so you can inflate a false sense of superiority by leaving mean spirited and uptight anonymous comments, look away! What follows may cause health problems:

It's not even me this time. This display was spotted while rambling through Harvard Square yesterday in none other than the window of J.Press. Yes, it's true. A tuxedo and pleated formal shirt with a red v-neck sweater, in one of the brick and mortar cathedrals of American traditional style. It's so shocking one almost fails to notice the fact that jacket has flaps on the pockets or the clashing burgundy repp striped tie. Will there be no end to this torture?

I'm not writing this to either praise or malign this unusual combination. Truth be told, I think it's pretty silly looking, but who cares? I don't find any more enjoyment in trashing specific examples of other peoples stylistic chance taking than I do in wallowing in a strict adherence to rules.

The clothing we wear is fraught with meaning. Many people don't realize it, but whether you wear a tux or pyjamas tells things to the world. Dressing well is a sign of respect for those you will deal with in a given day. It should also make you feel and behave better. Above all, it should be fun. If it's all about torture and anguish, what's the point?

11 March 2012

The Jams

The Boy and the Girl are being raised on a steady diet of The Jams and Daddy's other incorrigible anachronisms. Mamma's too, though her anachronisms are sometimes different from mine. Recently, this has manifested itself in the purchase of the children's very own record player:

Spotted by Mamma and purchased by Daddy, it's a heavy old "portable" thing in a cute vintage wrapper.

But it's no toy, don't let the monkeys and elephants fool you. Fully equipped with a heavy duty handle, sturdy latch and metal corners, it is as well built as any of the vintage amplifiers my friends have played in my many various bands. The animal print is even in Tolex....the real stuff used to cover amps.
Under the cover we find a killing old self contained mono record player...

Replete with serious big fat heavy duty analog nerdy type details...

It plays records in four speeds. You thought a 78 was rare? When was the last time you saw a 16?

Complete with instructions printed under the lid in full blast design nerdy Helvetica circa 1968...

Even that logo is a design geeks dream. I'm on overload here.

Maybe you remember these, only in black. Hamilton Electronics made this kind of stuff specifically for schools. AV equipment, headsets that plugged into booths in the library, and record players for the teachers to use on Friday afternoon along with a slide show. Remember when your teacher wheeled in a bunch of heavy analog and sent one of the kids to close the shades for a "film strip". I do. That's what this thing is.

So I set it up in the kids' room, and showed the Boy how to use it. It was a real rite of passage for both of us. He could barely believe that he was allowed to touch it, given the fact that contact with the "Big Record Player" in the living room by anyone but Daddy carries the penalty of death. I showed him how to turn it on, change speeds, place the needle gingerly and handle a record properly. It's a big deal, my way of teaching that some things are important and special, and deserve to be treated with reverence and care. Then I told him, and the Girl, that for today they could listen to my records, and we had a dance party in the kids' room.

Today, I took them record shopping. For me, it was like bringing them to a cathedral. I almost cried.

We rode the subway to Harvard Square. Our first stop was Audio Lab, so Daddy could spend $39 on this teeny tiny thing for the "Big Record Player". Worth every penny.

Followed by the world's best pizza at Pinnochio's for lunch...

And then a trip to In Your Ear, a full blast claustrophobic crazy dusty little record store in a basement, packed to a fire code defying level with more musty music than you can imagine. My kind of place, I've been a customer there since high school...

The "down below in a secret cave" aspect of the place did not fail to impress the children.

We poked around and I let them each pick a record to buy, with a smidge of minimal guidance based on what I know they like. They both hit home runs:

"piano jazzy jams" for the Girl...

"robot music" for the Boy.

In told the boy he was probably the only kid in school with his own record player in his room. He said "In my class?". I said "No, in the whole school." I told him a lot of kids don't even have a record player in the house. When he asked me why, with a tone of surprise that anyone could live without one, I thought "because most kids parents live in the present". But I didn't say that. I just smiled.


07 March 2012

Another Whiff of Spring

Just warm enough today to leave the Barbour at home. Good thing, too. With this mild Winter we just had, that coat has seen a lot of use, and it's just possible that I might i fact be sick of wearing it just now.
The bright orange stripe in this Ben Silver repp tie ($1.99) may be small, but it goes a long way to lifting this relatively staid combination of blue check shirt and brown tweed jacket out of the doldrums. A whiff of Spring, just a whiff...
Cotton khakis make an early appearance. For many, khakis are a go-to year round trouser, but I find them to be too light in Winter, even when temps are unseasonably warm. Now that they're out of the closet, they'll likely make multiple appearances each week until they go away again.

The scarf and gloves I carried in my tote bag as extra protection against late night chill have been supplanted by a light wool crew neck in crazy orange ($1.00) one of my new favorite items. Another whiff of Spring? Or is this sweater a deep breath? Either way, I love it.

If this ensemble looks familiar, it may be that you've seen something like it before:
Bill (my trusty suit form) wore it to the Drill Hall Flea Market recently. Is it mild schizophrenia to be influenced by oneself in sartorial choices? Or merely unforgivable narcissism?

This outfit combines warm elements with lighter ones, drab colors and bright ones, in a way that pays heed to both the time of year and the weather of the day. I say something like this every year in early Spring (and again in early Autumn): transitional dressing can often be the most difficult to maneuver, but also the most fun.

Tweed Chicken

The Girl celebrated her third birthday this weekend. A house filled with friends, family and running children kept a broad smile on her face. Thank you one and all who were there. She received many thoughtful gifts, thankfully none of the noisy/flashing variety....
Daddy's personal favorite is this small soft toy chicken made of houdstooth check tweed with gold yarn legs. It's as though a fairy went in my closet and turned my clothes into toys.

p.s. the Shop is bursting with new goods, a lot of high quality stuff I've been sitting on for a while, including Barbour, Burberry, Polo, Harris Tweed, Viyella, USA made L.L. Bean and more.

03 March 2012

Keep It Simple (Rainy Day Edition)

Despite my love for (and arguable overuse) of the slightly more outrageous trappings at the outer bounds of what may be considered classic menswear, I do in fact find solace in the clean look of simple classics at times.  Opposites, by there very existence, make each other better. What's Summer without Winter? And what good are things like Kelly green cords if you don't tone it down sometimes? Besides, matching four patterns and trying to wield bright hues with apparent aplomb gets to be an exhausting gig. It's nice sometimes to reach for the tried and true:
And what could be more tried and true than a Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece navy blazer ( $6.99), vintage 1980s Brooks Brothers white oxford with the oh-so-coveted unlined collar ($5.49) and burgundy repp stripe tie by Bert Pulitzer for Lord & Taylor ($1.99), finished cleanly with a white cotton square?
Below, charcoal worsted trousers, vintage 1960s, with Allen Edmonds "Mac Neil" brogues in shell cordovan. I know, they could use a bit of a buff, but it had been drizzling all day and they were a bit dirty. As much as my dandy tendencies were leaning toward yellow socks, I managed to suppress them (for once) and opt for simple navy with white dots.

All of it topped off with a mid-calf length tan trench coat, complete with button-in wool lining and leather fittings ($14.99), a Donegal tweed cap ($1.99) and a black umbrella with a wooden shaft (left behind at a shop I worked in years ago). Nothing like a healthy dose of the classics to ground you now and then.

02 March 2012

Nothing New Under The Sun

The older I get, the more outright obnoxious I tend to find most men's designer clothing. With women's  clothes, there is an endless variety if exploration of shape, color, proportion and even asymmetry allowed that will keep things at least interesting and at best downright artistic. In men's clothes, however, "design" is frequently little more than stealing, re-packaging and marketing. I like to poke fun at phrases like "well curated authentic heritage Americana" when discussing 19th century poor peoples clothes being sold as high design, but a close second is "classic with a twist", or worse "preppy with a twist" when used to describe proper menswear made disproportionately small or worse, some kind of f*cked up. Alas, there is nothing new under the sun...
Note the penny loafer sandal (?!?!) by  none other than Bass, purveyor of the rule book thumping Weejun itself, in 1967, the very height of the heyday of true Prep/Ivy/Trad style. Even the veritable "with a twist" turns out to be stolen goods.

When we reach the point of there being nothing new under the sun, it may just be that the best new things are in fact old things.