30 May 2012

Reader Questions : The Devil's Own Cloth

polyester : the Devil's own cloth

Reader Wes writes:

Hi - lately, I've been looking for a suit in various thrift stores. I saw a few today that had no labels. They looked decent but I could not figure out if they were wool or polyester. One felt pretty good, but I was suspicious. Can you recommend a tip or two for identifying fabrics? I'd prefer not to invest in polyester, though I suppose if I can't tell the difference I probably shouldn't be so picky.....

Any help you can offer is greatly appreciated


Let me begin by saying that the short answer is that polyester in any form or percentage is generally to be regarded as an a abominable thing to be avoided at all costs. Then there is the longer answer which involves the overall life lessons of knowing what's best, choosing one's battles, and above all knowing when to compromise. The latter is what follows.

1) Knowing what's best:
The best clothes are made entirely of natural fibers. There's really no arguing that point. In the case of suits, this frequently means some manner of wool, even in Summer. Cotton, linen, and even silk are acceptable as well, but good luck finding such things in our homogenized and all-too-casual world.

It's always best to look for natural fibers. Fortunately, better clothing is usually marked with a tag listing fabric content. On many suits, this can be found inside the coat at the collar. In some cases, a fabric label may be sewn into the lining near one of the interior pockets. In others still, a label will be inside one of the interior pockets. If you know where to look, it's almost always there, but not always.

Natural fibers also tend to have a nicer "feel" to them, whereas synthetics and synthetic blends will have a rougher, faker feel. Experience will teach you the difference.

2) Choose your battles:
While you may want to and very well should do your best to fill your closet with only natural fiber clothes, but sometimes you'll have to bend. Unless you can afford to shop new in the places you like whenever you want, this will be the case. Indeed, if you were that kind of guy anyway you wouldn't likely be reading this blog.

The nerdy world of online menswear discussion is full to the brim with hard core purists and archaic enthusiasts who will kick and scream at the very mention of the word "polyester". But let's not forget that it was the high holy Brooks Brothers themselves who first unleashed Dupont Dacron on the world in the 1960s, or that it was indeed for them and many other big names in traditional menswear not a curse but a selling point for quite some time. The main difference is that those clothes were just as well constructed and styled as there natural fiber counterparts, and as such looked better than the sunsequent double-knit badly formed disasters of the 1970s with which polyester is irrevocably joined in most people's minds. Older vintage garments with some polyester content are generally well made enough to compensate for their shortcomings. I have a pair of charcoal grey vintage trousers in dacron/wool blend that I love. They fit well, are well made, and stay creased even when rain soaked. I also have a vintage 1960s Brooks Brothers tan poplin wash and wear suit in poly/cotton blend that can't be beat for comfort and style on a really hot day in July.

Yeah, polyester stinks, but if it's not a double knit leisure suit, well......

3) Know when to compromise:
For the younger man in need of a good basic navy or grey suit on a tight budget, the options can be slim. Should you be wise enough to turn to thrift shopping, you've already got a one-up. If you should happen to find a good looking suit that fits well enough that doesn't feel like it's made of plastic that only cost less than $20 someplace that will get you the job and make you feel confident on a big fancy date with your girl who cares what its made from?  Style, carriage, composure, and cofidence are worth more than fabric content, brand name and country of origin any day of the week.

And yeah, if can't really tell the difference, you shouldn't be so picky. Besides...

Polyester can actually look good, no matter how strenuous the action...
Hope that helps.

29 May 2012

Getting High on My Own Supply

Sorting through the unsold goods from the Top Shelf Flea, I ran across this somehow forgotten gem:
A nice looking tan jacket, featuring the perfect hybrid of Anglo and Northeast Traditional elements: natural shoulders and a high lapel gorge with a two button darted front; precise tailoring with just the right amount of laid back, East Coast American slouch...
All of it rendered in beautiful silk shantung herringbone. It's a little dingy, but nothing a good dry cleaning can't freshen up...

From the venerable old Chipp of New York and New Haven. It may seem at times that being up in Boston the thrift shops are awash in J. Press, Brooks Brothers and Andover Shop goods, but a fine piece from Chipp is always a rare and special treat. Fits like a glove...don't know why I ever tried to sell it,good thing nobody bought it from me.

p.s. the Shop has been fully revamped with new items for warm weather. Check it out. I promise that the next post will contain absolutely no shameless commercialism ...I hope.

27 May 2012

Happy Memorial Day

Last weekend at Top Shelf Flea Market I met a man who told me that when he was a soldier overseas in Afghanistan he read my blog everyday....in the dessert wearing camo. The best thing about writing this blog and doing what I do has been the people I have met because of it, but nothing has ever humbled me quite like that.

Enjoy your families, but take a moment to be humble and remember why it is we all have a three day weekend to drink beer and eat hot dogs in the back yard.

p.s. the minute man tie is not for sale, but plenty of new Spring and Summer ties are up in the Shop. Enjoy 15% off your entire order using discount code MEMORIAL2012 at checkout now through midnight May 28.

26 May 2012

The Jams

Who. That's who.

It's funny. The Brits gave the world menswear as we know it. Then we Americans took it and twisted it and give it back as our own thing, a style to be often imitated but never quite stolen.

Americans gave the world electric guitars, drum kits, and rock 'n roll. Then the Brits took it and twisted it and gave it back as their own thing, a style (punk, metal, psychedelic, etc.) to be often imitated but never quite stolen.

23 May 2012

The New Nostalgia

Enjoying something of an early 1990s moment here, but so be it. That is, after all, soon to be the new nostalgia. And a man must keep current, even in his stylish anachronisms.
"F*ck you, that's my name!!"
Let's just hope all that coked-out, greedy *sshole stuff doesn't come back in vogue.


Ermenegildo Zegna, made in Italy
Fairfax by Allen Edmonds
Fairhaven by Allen Edmonds, made in USA

Cole Haan, made in Italy
Bruno Magli suede split toes with Goretex rubber soles, made in Italy

All well maintained and kept polished and on shoe trees by one very careful owner, all size 12 1/2 or 13. Available now in the Shop. $80/pair, $9.95 shipping in US, $24 internationally. $500 for all of them, shipped free in US, $50 internaitionally.

p.s. Shameless, I know, but a fellas got to make a buck somehow.What's a stay at home Dad college drop out night shift liquor store guy to do? Spring/Summer neckties and tailored clothing to follow in the coming days.

21 May 2012

Thank You

Top Shelf Flea Market V is officially in the books. Warmest thanks to each and every one of you who stopped by to take a look at what we put together. Here's to another great crowd.

p.s. for those of you who couldn't make it, look for a complete warm weather revamp of the online shop in the coming week.

17 May 2012

Top Shelf Teaser

I apologize for my lack of time spent around these parts this week.  With Top Shelf Flea Market V fast approaching this coming Sunday, I've been in a constant swirl of prep work. Just to whet your appetite, here's a little teaser of what's in store for menswear this time out:

Summer sports coats in every shade of tan, seersucker and silk tweed. Cotton, poplin, vintage and not so vintage, you name it, I've got it. Plenty of old stuff from the Big Three: Brooks Brothers, J.Press, and Andover Shop.
A nice little group of jaunty, lightweight plaid pieces. The muted one, third from the left, is vintage 1960s Abercrombie & Fitch. The mini gingham beside it is also vintage, though it's single breasted, it does look suspiciously like that one from the J.Press x Cremieux collaboration a few years back.

And of course, too many ties to mention.

Not to be outdone, good friend Zach of Newton Street Vintage counters with his own group:

I've got my eye on the navy and gold number.

And it seems I'm not the only one who thinks that intricate broad printed paisley is due for a comeback.

He's got me beat with this fat stack of real bleeding madras shirts....

And these butcher striped shirts are a great bold touch with khakis and a navy blazer, no tie, no socks.

See you at the Flea!

12 May 2012

Flowers and Footprints

Going into the woods to pick some flowers for your mother is a nice thought, but if you see bare footprints, turn back. Go buy her some flowers at the supermarket or something....
...chances are that frisky girl Pauline, you know, the one your mother doesn't like, is down by the lake "communing with nature" again. Be a good boy.

Happy Mother's Day

11 May 2012

The Boat and The Bank (a tale of relativity)

Thrift shops are frequently chaotic places where any sense you have of relativity needs to be suspended if you're going to be succesful. It can be almost an alternate reality that requires an alternate set of rules. To illustrate the point, lets talk about two pair of shoes I recently acquired in the same shop on the same day:
The first is this pair of navy and white boat shoes by L.L.Bean, $14.99 in barely worn condition. Made in El Salvador, of leather that is not the greatest quality, having a bit of a plasticy finish. I might be disappointed in them had I ordered them new for full whack, but for what I paid for them, they're a useful Summer shoe. I know I'll wear them frequently with madras pants and shorts. Just the other day I wore them with khakis, a university striped shirt, rubbon belt and navy blazer.

And then there's these: bench made in England by Church's, the leather is indescribably soft and pliable; $6.99. For half the price of the boat shoes, I got a pair of truly fine shoes that would have sold for nearly ten times as much new. Or, to be mathematical about it, the boaut shoes were 75% off retail, wnd the Church's were 98% off retail. You see, it really is all relative, even if that relativity sometimes works backwards.

in other news:

-Speaking of shoes, I just added several new pairs in the Shop, among them this knockout pair of Crockett and Jones monk straps. Plenty of other new items coming over the weekend.

-Those of you waiting to hear about the vintage tail suit I mentioned a while back, I haven't forgotten, its coming soon. Photos are up at Facebook if you want to go over there and drool over it.

-My custom suit from Imparali Tailors arrived in the mail this week. More on that at the beginning of next week. Short story: it's good.

08 May 2012

Book Review : The Gentry Man

A few weeks ago, Harper/Collins was kind enough to enough to send me an advance copy of their new book, The Gentry Man, released to the general public today. A compendium of Gentry magazine from 1951-1957, it provides an interesting look back at a period in menswear history that can frequently be romanticized beyond recognition.

For those of you not familiar with Gentry magazine, I can only say that it reminds of what GQ was like a long time ago, when it was good. It offers a broad slice of all the things that make up what they call "the civilized man". In it you'll find not only cocktail recipes, but also great articles about the act of drinking itself with titles like "In Praise of Booze". You'll find tips on winning chess in seven moves, food articles about James Beard and Brillat Savarin alongside classic and time tested recipes. You'll find a few pages about cars and resort hotels, furniture, modern art, and of course, plenty about clothing. Interestingly, you won't find much talk of professional sports.

As you might expect, it contains a lot of nostalgia about "the good old days" when men regularly wore suits in the day and formal wear at night. What's better than that, though, is all the unusual stuff that's included. Crazy sailor suits for poolside at the resort come to mind at the wild extreme, a tweed weekend jacket with raglan sleeves comes to mind in the "why doesn't someone make that anymore" end. The good stuff is really good, but it's the inclusion and sheer amount or weird stuff that's even better. For one thing, it makes the good stuff look better, and for another, its good to be reminded that even in what we like to think of as the glory days, it wasn't all a bed of roses. People were just as prone to go for something crazy in the interest of newness back the as they are now, the only difference being that then the labels were attached to the inside of the clothes. Its a useful thing to remember both good and bad when we see the past and use it as a tool to assess good and bad today. Gentry provides both.

Each chapter is introduced with some brief text by editor Hal Rubinstein, and his writing is well informed and to the point, making this book as good to read as the pictures are fun to look at. Best of all, the whole thing is relatively short, and very well chosen. No filler, only the good stuff. The book is laid out in a very easy to thumb trough way, which is always a bonus with these kind of things.

For the older reader, this book can offer both a warm look back and a chance to chuckle at some minor foibles. For the younger reader, it provides an extra degree of true perspective on the past in a more multi-dimensional way that is often offered. In either case, it would be a fun addition to any mans collection of sartorial books.

05 May 2012

The Jams

"I met this girl for the first time on Saturday night...."

Very early AC/DC, 1974. Dressed like rejects from the auditions for Queen, playing what is essentially a rockabilly jam, via Gibson, Fender and Gretsch. The beginnings of their tongue-in-cheek, fun filled and goofy brand of filthy rock n roll. It was a promise to be later fulfilled by the arrival of Bon Scott (more on him later), and lost in the wind with Brian Johnson and too much touring into too old age.

AC/DC has been with me for a long time. I found them as a teenager in high school, stuck with them through the punk years, and still enjoy them on the turntable with the volume way up. Despite their solidly cemented place in the annals of big bad bar rock of the 1970s, they managed to do it with enough humor to keep it timeless.

And for what its worth, Angus Young has been teaching me for years that there's nothing wrong with being the only guy in a jacket and tie if that's the way you're feeling it. In a world filled with jeans, t-shirts and beer, he was a king among men, always in a tie.

p.s. given the fact that for those of us with social lives, Saturday is for parties,my infrequent series of posts "the Jams" will now be a semi regular feature on weekends. It will give me an excuse to continue to dig up great moments in music the older among you may remember fondly and the younger among you can thank me for teaching to you.

02 May 2012

The Homebody

An old Sero shirt from an old store in Swampscott, Massachusetts...
...an old regimental stripe bow tie by Rivetz of Boston...

...and an old suit from The Andover Shop. 100% real 1960s American traditional clothing, picked up 50 years hence at Boston area thrift shops. Good as new.

All of these things were made, sold and stayed in the same twenty mile radius all this time. For a guy who is raising his children in the house where he was raised, where his mother has lived since his grandparents bought the place in 1965, when these clothes were new, that's kind of heart-warming.

And all you young guys thought you made up this "buy local, buy green" stuff....