30 April 2012

A Dash of Color

I like to make an attempt to look put-together, even when I'm not really dressing up. Since a tie is frequently too much these days (as stated here), Springtime affords a man the option of ribbon belts in a myriad of stripes and prints. They can add the dash of color of a tie, in an easy, casual way:
My own collection isn't huge, but it's adequate. A grouping of stripes in colors similar to what I might wear in a tie, one madras plaid, and  a couple of go-to-hell prints. If you're wearing khakis or go-to-hell pants with a tennis shirt, a leather belt simply won't do. If you're wearing a blazer and bow tie, and you're a brave man, try one on for size. Just stay keep them away from dress pants and suits (but you already knew that, right?)

Cheap, fun, and eminently collectible, ribbon belts satisfy my style conscious side as well as the insatiable hoarder in me. And here's a little secret: look for these in the women's accessories at the thrift shop. All the best ones wind up there.

p.s. the Shop is as stocked as ever. Check it out.

28 April 2012

Worth Every Penny: Proper Aftershave

As fussy as I can be about so many inconsequential things, I've never been fussy about bathroom products. Ivory soap and Old Spice had suited me just fine for most of my life. Until recently, that is. Lately I find that I have developed an appreciation for better personal grooming products. This isn't to say that I now spend outrageous sums of money on numerous "artisinal" pseudo-luxuries, but a small collection of well chosen, time tested products can be worth every penny.

For the longest time, I was not the least an aftershave kind of guy. Despite the fact that I've been shaving with a safety razor since my teen-age years, and more recently sometimes with a straight blade, I always found a splash of ice cold water to be enough. Then I reverted back to Old Spice, because it was nostalgic and cheap. After mentioning it in a blog post a while back, a disgruntled reader informed me via email in no uncertain terms that Old Spice was a "stink bomb", low brow dime store junk worse than wearing no aftershave at all. And while I found his criticism to be more than a little overly harsh, it did get me thinking of the old fashioned scents I used to steal out of the sample bottles when I worked at Simon's in high school.

Bay rum is the fragrance I remember most. The bottle on the left is Ogallala Bay Rum out of Nebraska, $32 for an 8 oz. bottle at Leavitt & Pierce tobacco shop in Harvard Square. It's spicy and herbaceous, even a little sweet. It's bracing on the face right after a wet shave, providing an old school cool burn that is invigorating, stopping just shy of being painful. I prefer the Special Reserve Double Strength. It tightens the skin nicely, leaving it very smooth. The scent comes on strong at first, but quickly fades in to a mere pleasant suggestion. Very masculine, very old time barber shop. Plus, the 19th century apothecary look of the bottle is just something nice to see on the shelf.

On the right is Royall Lyme, the original scent from in the Royall line. Made from a Bermuda recipe using lots of Caribbean limes, its brighter, fresher and lighter than the bay rum, making it an ideal choice for warmer weather. Like the bay rum, its bracing and astringent, leaving my skin feeling tight and fresh. At nearly $47.50 for a 4 oz. bottle at the Andover Shop in Harvard Square, it sure ain't cheap, but this bottle will last me from now until September for two years running, so that really isn't so bad. You can get it directly from the Royall web site for $40 if you like, but to me the extra $7.50 is worth going to a men's shop and buying it properly, by which I mean wearing a coat and tie in place full of coats and ties and handing over the cash, not gawking at the lap top in your pyjamas. There is still, after all, something to be said for that. Besides, all this thrifty living I discuss here is meaningless without an indulgence now and then.

This stuff makes my skin feel better and puts me in a good mood in the morning, and my little 3 year old girl always says I smell nice. Its worth every penny.

p.s. stay tuned for an upcoming dissertation on the pleasures of (gasp!) hippie soap.

24 April 2012

In Real Life....

...I'm a Dad with two small kids who spends a large portion of each day running the beautifully mundane tasks of everyday life. As much as I can get worked into a lather over the people I see at the grocery store in their pyjamas at 11 am, I have to admit that this is not place for coat and tie either.Being well dressed, or even something of a peacock, is one thing; being a fussy overdone twit is another.
A Baracuta jacket, white tennis shirt, jeans and boat shoes will do just fine on a cool day in April. It's no morning coat, but neither is it bed clothes. Just because you're comfortable doesn't mean you have to be a slob. Just mind the arrogance. (For a great word on that topic, see Conor's recent post at Young Man/Old Man. He's a smart kid.)
Being well dressed is as much about being dressed appropriately for the situation as it is about simply wearing nice things and "dressing up." In fact, for the clotheshorse, casual can be even more difficult to do by virtue of its very ubiquity, but it shouldn't be ignored. There's nothing wrong with being comfortably dressed when you're out shuttling the kids to and from school and shopping for groceries, just as long as you let your personal style come through just as much as it does in your suits and ties.

p.s. the Shop has been recently restocked, with silk and linen beginning to filter in. There are some great vintage suits from Brooks Brothers, and some Italian silk and wool tweed. I'll also be offering a knockout 1940s vintage full tails suit (yes, another one of these) for bids through the blog in a few days, so stay tuned.

p.p.s. The line-up for Top Shelf Flea Market V is dangerous. That much good stuff just shouldn't be in one room at the same time, but when it is, you better be prepared.

21 April 2012

Striped for Spring

The grey pinstripe suit is a stalwart of a business man's wardrobe, second in importance only to navy blue. I come across a fair amount of such suits in  my travels, usually in heavier fabrics for Fall and Winter. I even have such a suit myself. Finding a version in a lightweight worsted for Spring and Summer is a real treat.
I found the jacket alone, priced $6.99, a crumpled, wrinkled mess, on the rack in a thrift shop. As we always do when I find a jacket that is or was clearly the top half of a nice suit once, my little daughter and I took it to the trousers racks to play a "matching game". Sure enough, there were the trousers, an equally wrinkled mess, for $5.99.
3/2 undarted jacket with a two button cuff, a "sack" if you will, but with enough shape to look good. The fabric is very lightweight and breathable, The front is fully canvassed. A good friend and well known expert in these matters took one look at this suit and surmised by the high cut of the lapel notch, and lack of button hole in the left lapel, that this garment was likely made by Hertling in New York in the late 1960s.

Given the fact that I really don't need to wear a suit, ever, and this is such a business uniform, I find that the big unlined rolling collar of a vintage Brooks Brothers shirt ($5.49) and a silk knit tie knock the seriousness of this one just enough to make it comfortable for walking around town.Sacrilege to some, but so too in a way is wearing a suit to a job wear others wear jeans. It's all about middle ground.

Hailing originally from Serry's of Hanover New Hampshire, a store that catered to Dartmouth students for nearly 100 years before closing it's doors in 2004. Perfunctory internet research shows that Serry's was founded by an Italian tailor, and later sold to a pair of Italian brothers in the late 1950s. Proof positive that the WASP stronghold on the right to wear these things was not as tight and exclusive as the nerdy world of clothing dorks would have us sometimes believe.

It might not be easy, but if you find a nice lightweight striped suit, pick it up. It makes a refreshing alternative to all the khaki and tan worsted that is the order of the day this time of year. Get striped for Spring.

15 April 2012

A Deep Breath of Fresh Air

I don't like to jump the gun and declare Summer the first day its warm enough to leave the house without a coat. Better to ease into things. Though I did pack up a lot of heavy clothes and move out some brighter, lighter fare, I still kept a tweed handy for cold nights, preferring instead to take whiffs of Spring.  Now the whiffs have become deep breaths. Time to brighten things up...a little.
My new favorite double breasted blazer, despite the extra cloth, somehow feels more "Spring" to me than my old single breasted. With pale tan gabardine slacks it's a cinch.

An end on end shirt in royal blue with yellow stripes and a long pointed spread collar (H.Herzfeld, $5.49) and a hunter green tie with woven yellow dots (Polo, made in Italy, $1.99) that doesn't see nearly enough action are a refreshing change from my usual thick oxford button down and stripes.
Watch out. Go-To-Hell pants coming any day now.

p.s. new items in the Shop. More to come in throughout the week.

11 April 2012

Comrades in Arms : Put This On and Street Etiquette Get Cheap

Some thrift store types get all territorial and hate to see anyone else pick up a "good score". Not me. Personally, I'm happy to see someone else experience the little thrill that is finding things you couldn't hope to afford at a price you can. Besides, proof that I'm not the only one keeps me from feeling crazy.

Put This On, Season 2, Episode 2: Thrifting with Street Etiquette from Put This On on Vimeo.

Long distance friend by proxy Jesse Thorn of Put This On went thrift shopping in New York City for this installment of season 2 of their web series. It's a fun watch. Jesse shops like I do, for the same things, so take his advice as you would mine. Travis and Josh of Street Etiquette have a more urban street style in mind, but it's a cool and eclectic one. They remind me that it's not only old farty fuddy duddies like me who can do well to shop this way. One thing we share in common is the ability to see a used garment as raw material and envision it altered, so take their advice as you would mine too. Bonus points for the Hudson Bay coat.

PTO Man: Sean Crowley from Put This On on Vimeo.

This video is an older one, and well worth watching if for no other reason than our man Crowley's last line, which is the mantra by which I live my daily life.

p.s. That Turnbull & Asser shirt Jesse picked up for $7.99 is a find, but you know I'd have gotten it for $1.99. Just sayin'.

10 April 2012

6X2::6X1 (or, Numeric Codes for Clothing Nerds)

For a long time a good double breasted navy blazer was a desire needing fulfillment in the closet of An Affordable Wardrobe. Double breasted coats of all types are harder to get "right" than single breasted coats, as so much depends on the number and placement of the front buttons. Personally, I find a 6X2 or 4X1 front to be acceptable, though I loathe the 6X1 front so popular in the 1990s. Unless of course it's a 6X2 rolled to 6X1 model. Hardcore clothing nerds will read all that coded numerology with ease. For the rest of you, I will explain.
I recently picked this coat up with the intention of selling it. I really wasn't going to keep it. For one thing, I already had a good double breasted blazer acquired not too long ago, and for another, I don't really need any of these clothes, let alone more of them. In the end, however I couldn't help it. This one fits me too well, is cut from soft but hard wearing cloth, and is drenched in too many nerdy style details to pass up. Pure Polo Ralph Lauren at it's finest, made in USA, likely mid-90s. I remember this cut from back then. I always thought it was cool, but never owned it. Soft shoulders that extend just beyond the natural shoulder, adding a whiff of English "drape"; high cut dramatic 1930s style peaked lapels; side vents; a slightly shorter skirt; and the elusive 6X2/1 button stance.
Those lapels are cut like knives, sharp. Sure, they're wide, but the softness of the cloth keeps that all in check. Besides, I happen to be of the opinion that peaked lapels on a double breasted jacket are best served on the wide side anyway.

But it's the button stance that really does the trick. 6X2 means there are six buttons on the front of which 2 are functional, as seen here. 6X1 means only one is functional. It's a style that smacks of bad 90s, because it was bad and happened in the 90s. Dated, in a bad way. Then there is this cut, rolled to one button, but with two fully functional. Inside, there are two buttons as well, thereby actually allowing the coat to be worn in either position. Additionally, the top button hole is finished on the inside, much the same way the top hole should be finished on the 3/2 single breasted cut beloved by American traditionalists everywhere. Unfortunately, this cut has become nearly impossible to find, which is a shame. I find it to be elegant and nonchalant all at once. Which is kind of what we're all supposed to be shooting for with this whole menswear bag, isn't it?

At one time, this was something of a "house cut" for Polo Ralph Lauren. Here we see the man himself sporting what is likely the very same jacket I just bought. My Honda Civic, on the other hand, offers no comparison to his 1938 Bugatti. Bet his car isn't full of paper cups from Dunkin' Donuts and plastic bags from Market Basket either. But we do have the same jacket.

As with all things Ralph, it comes from somewhere else. People malign Ralph as a thief, but I see what he does a little differently. Jesse Thorn once referred to his work as an "abstraction" of what rich people wear, and that just about nails it. This kind of thing would be really awful, if it weren't for the fact that the good stuff is really good.

Double breasted coats worn this way were actually something of a (dare I say it) trend amongst wealthy Brits and the guys who dressed like them back in the 1930s. Here we see the original model as worn by the Duke of Windsor back then. (side note: I have no time for the Duke of Windsor. I know, he's a seen as this romantic hero who abdicated his throne for "love". But in truth, he's a rich white kid of dubious political leanings who shirked his eminent responsibilities in order to remain a spoiled rich white man-child forever. But I digress, he did have nice clothes. Frankly, I have more respect for Ralph.)

I've worn this jacket a dozen times in the three weeks I've had it, I like it that much. Action shots coming soon.

6X2::6X1 Catch it if you can.

07 April 2012

Buona Pasqua

Easter Sunday 2005. Poster designed and hand silk screend by
Your Humble Author, in the salad days of punk rock.
Bloody and violent, to be sure, but he is wearing a bow tie.

Happy Easter. More clothing related drivel to come next week. In the meantime, enjoy a big fat slice of pizza chiena. Cholesterol be damned, that's what red wine is for.

03 April 2012

Casual Black Tie, Again

Lately I've been taking a bit of a stab at the nitpickers, and a reader told me to cut it out. Point taken. So even though this post yet again deals with our notions of the meaning and practice of arcane sartorial law, I will do my best to refrain from attacks on the overly uptight. Instead, lets take a step back and see whether these actually were as relevant to the storied and glorious past as we like to think the were.
Recently, this bit of formal wear joined the ranks of the Affordable Wardrobe. Look closely and you'll find a lot of the big rules have been thrown under the bus here. For one, there's the lapels. Though the may be faced in grosgrain silk, they are notch cut, a style commonly held to be anathema to evening dress. Furthermore, the pockets have flaps. Again, anathema. But all that aside, it's a well made tuxedo in the classic American soft shouldered, undarted cut.
It's a beautifully constructed garment. The lapel facing really is something, that old fashioned thickly corded grosgrain silk. The stripe down the side of the trousers is the same. The bulk of the suit is of a mid weight true black hopsack material, perfect for Summer formal when you don't want a white jacket.
Four button surgeon cuffs, the Dracula red lining is a bonus. And just look at the hand work on the button holes, lining, all of it. And yet, the buttons are not covered in satin or silk. Hmmm?

The overall quality is no real surprise, given its provenance at the Holy Church of the Andover Shop. What is in a way surprising, besides its flagrant disregard for so many of the rules of formal dress, is it's age.

This tux was made in 1961, in the very heyday of the cocktail party and formal wear scene, in the very meat of this monolithic Ivy League past we let intimidate us. It hails not only from a time used as the very reference point for all of this, but from a small shop known as one of the hot spots of the real thing. The Andover Shop in its day not only outfitted the Ivy League elite, but also the best of jazz musicians. One and all they were men who knew their way around evening clothes. How then can such an "abomination" as a notch lapel, flap pocket tuxedo have come from such a place, and at such a time?

The answer to me is simple. Clearly, the "rules" were not as stiffly enforced back then as we like to think they were. True, people may generally have carried themselves with an overall greater deal of comportment back then, but can it be that they were actually comfortable enough about it not to care too much about the minutia? Lest we forget, back then they even tried to sell us the button down collar formal shirt.

Then theres the lost of art of the truly "semi formal". The man who owned this tux likely wore dinner clothes frequently. He likely had more than one set of dinner clothes. He might have worn "formal" white tie to the opera,and he may have had a more proper peak lapelled tux for more serious occasions, but I bet he wore this to "semi formal" house parties on the weekend where both black tie and casual nonchalance were required.  Other guys at the same party likely wore madras jackets with satin faced shawl collars, and still others wore dark suits with neckties. I've written about casual black tie before, and I still believe we need to bring it back. Very Playboy Club, you know?

This suit is in my size, and I'm keeping it. At $29.99 in a thrift store, it's price sits well above my normal outlay, especially for clothing as truly un-neccesary as this. But you have to love the idea of being formal and laid back all at once, without resorting to a long tie or weird black shirt like some Hollywood slob. There's nothing like being the most formal guy in the room and the most comfortable all at once, is there? A suit like this, worn with a plain black bow, plain white shirt with French cuffs (no pleats), no cummerbund and black lace up shoes would do the trick nicely. Have me over for drinks some Sunday at 7:00 p.m. so I can prove it to you.

p.s. the Shop is more stocked than ever, especially if you have a shoe fetish or happen to be a 46 regular. Check it out.