29 May 2013

Giving Back The House

Pictured above is a heap of stuff recently posted for sale as the beginnings of the warm weather collection in the Affordable Wardrobe online shop. Somewhere  underneath that pile is the family dining table. Not pictured in the background is a comfortable chair also piled high, and a rack in the back room full of clothing in process, as well as bags of stuff everywhere. By contributing to our ongoing fundraising campaign at Indiegogo, you'll not only help me grow my business and serve my customers better with more new items and quicker shipping,  you'll also be giving Mrs.G., the Boy and the Girl their house back.

Please allow me to say that asking for money in this way isn't easy for me. When I first launched the internet shop, I worried about how I was going to balance doing business and keeping this blog true to its roots. It hasn't been easy, and I probably fall short of the mark sometimes, but I do try to keep the two as separate as possible. I appreciate both your contributions to date and your patience with my having to be so vocal about it while the campaign runs. I remember as a child my parents watching the Channel 2 Auction, our local PBS television fundraiser, and thinking how I couldn't wait for it to be over so my shows would come back on. It's a little how I feel about this. I'll do my best to confine the begging to Facebook and Twitter, but it's bound to turn up here once in a while in the next few weeks. If you would like to contribute, follow the link in the right sidebar.

Again, thank you all.

24 May 2013

Upgrades and Improvements

I've often mentioned the importance of a good relationship with a skilled tailor. Fit is everything, and regardless of whether you buy clothing new or thrift, the help of a good alterations tailor will make all the difference in how well you look in your clothes. A good tailor can also help with alterations having nothing to do with fit, customizing stock garments and making them more your own.
This is a linen jacket by Polo, made in Italy. In the warmer months its a favorite, especially with white trousers and driving moccasins. My only problem with it is the full lining. A linen jacket should be light and breathable, and a full lining just doesn't make sense.
I recently had my tailor remove most of the back lining, and the jacket is much better now. This is how it should have been constructed in the first place.
This isn't an easy job, and not one that every corner dry cleaners can perform. It will require a lot of hand work, so if you do this find a skilled tailor. After the lining is cut out, the edge will need hand finishing.Additionally, the exposed seams will need edge treatment. A full lining is usually there to hide unfinished edges in the first place. On a better jacket built with a half lining, the edges will be finished or taped with strips of the same material as the lining. In this case, there was little extra fabric, so he edged have been surged to prevent fraying.
A piece was cut from the extra material to build a lining for the vent. Look closely, this was also done by hand. The exposed edge of the skirt also required hand finishing. 
The jacket originally had brown buttons,
which I had changed for white to give it a more casual feel. 

This isn't a cheap alteration, but considering that I got the jacket for next to nothing in the first place, the overall cost is still a deal. The jacket is now much better than when I got it, and still cost under $75 all told.  One of the many benefits of thrift shopping is that with things being as cheap as they are, you can really spend some money to get your alterations just right, and in the end wind up with better quality clothing that fits better for a fraction of the cost of new, lower quality stuff.  Thrifted clothing, far from being a compromise, cab in fact be an upgrade and an improvement.

p.s. New Indiegogo perk!

For a limited time, contribute $40 and receive a tie of your choice from the group in the new masthead photo. Visit the Facebook page for more photos. Ten available, awarded on a first come, first served basis.

Contribute here.

20 May 2013

Thrifting vs. Consumerism

Last Fall, I was contacted by group of students at Tufts University working on a short film exploring the social impact of consumerism on American culture. After a long wait and without further ado, I am proud to present to you "The Receipt of Happiness", in which you get to hear me pontificate aloud in full accent on the merits of second hand shopping. Thank you Jacob, Robert, Grace, and Doug and congratulations on a job well done.

18 May 2013

Let It Come To You

Thrift shopping is, at its best, an exercise in optimism and open-mindedness. Far from being limiting, when done well it can offer a wealth of options you weren't even aware existed. It takes some vision and confidence, but it can tech to not only look for the things you know are good, but also to see good where you didn't look for it. At the very least, it offers an opportunity to experiment with very little financial risk involved. My most newly acquired shirt, a royal oxford in lavender from the Andover Shop, $5.49, helps me explain.

To put it bluntly, this is a purple shirt, and I don't care for purple. In the now iconic book "Class", Paul Fussell berates all clothing purple as the mark of a prole. "If navy is the upper middle class color, purple is the prole equivalent."-Class, p. 52.  Funny, and true. But let's not forget that books like Fussell's "Class" or, God help us, the infamous "Official Preppy Handbook" were never meant to be the hard and fast instruction manuals they seem to be regarded s today. They were meant to point out the foibles of both rich and poor in a way that was instructive in it's tongue in  cheek humor. Still, I'm not a purple kind of guy.

Then I find this shirt for next to nothing at a thrift shop. It's my size, it's made of a really nice piece of cloth, and it's from the Andover Shop. I try not to be blinded by brand name, but this is one hell of a shirt...and its not really "purple" so much as its "lavender"....and even our man Paul said "colors are classier the more pastel or faded" ibid. So, even purple is acceptable if its pale, I guess.

So I buy it, take it home, wash it, and iron it. I see it in my closet, and don't know quite how I'll wear it. Then today it's really warm and sunny, and I need away to throw some new life into the Spring uniform that is navy jacket and tan pants. How about that purple shirt?

Immediately, I see that this shirt is a lot more workable than I might have thought at first. Yes, its some kind of purple, but it's very pale, and its very well made. I quickly realize that this shirt will work like a blue shirt, but with a whiff more style. Today, in an outfit that otherwise consisted of navy/white/khaki, it added just the right bit of dandy, and it was something I would never ave considered had I not found it by chance, and cheap.

I often advise that if you want to be successful at thrift shopping, it helps to throw out your expectations. You just can't walk into such a place looking for something as specific as "charcoal flat front flannels size 34". You can start by walking in to see what they have, that day. Then keep coming back. Then learn not to be blinded by brands, then develop a discerning eye, then lastly look at everything and keep an open mind. I would never walk into a retail store looking for a lavender shirt, and I certainly would not pay upwards of $100 for one. But in the end, I'm glad to have one. Certainly, personal style is something that comes from within,but it gets better when you step back a bit and let it come to you.

16 May 2013

Improvements and Upgrades (or, relativity)

People who don' t shop in thrift stores tend to share the common misconception that thrift shopping is a matter of compromise, of settling for what you can get. They're wrong. In fact, shopping in places like Walmart and Target is settling for what you can get. Allow me to explain.
I'm not about to open a conversation on blind brand allegiance. Nor am I about to infer that you are less of a person for using mass market products. I am only going to suggest that it is in fact possible to do this while abstaining from participation in the mass market, and in the long run, come out ahead.

This time of year, I tend to shy away from dungarees for the go-to pants in favor of khakis. For one thing, I find jeans to be nothing but uncomfortable on a warm day. For another, khakis run the gamut from casual to dressy. For this reason, several pair (or at least a few) are best.

When it comes to khakis, or other widely produced items,  thrift shops come into their own. In the past, I've owned many pairs of J. Crew "Essential Chinos",though I never purchased a single pair from J. Crew. Thrift shops are full of them, usually for five or six bucks a pair. They're good enough, and cheap enough. I don't even have to settle for "Dockers". In Spring, I practically wear a uniform or tan pants and navy blue jackets. As such, khakis are something of a commodity for me. So I buy the mall brand khakis for cheap, and wear them out.Then little by little, they are replaced with better goods,for the same price. To wit, the current rotation, seen above,

At left we have a pair of Brooks Brothers "Madison" chinos. A nice, darker shade of tan, these chinos do dressy and casual equally well. I have this pair dry cleaned, so I wear them dressy when they're crisp, and casual when a little dirty and rumpled. A definite improvement and/or upgrade to the J, Crew models, in a very nice shade of darker tan. Nice as these chinos are, it pays to remember that once venerable stalwarts like "Brooks Brothers" are only just brand names now, and no real guarantee of quality and/or "realness". ( We used to call that 'authenticity' in the day, before that word was considered "artisinal.")

In the middle, we have the "fanciest" pair.  A custom job from Alan Rouleau of Boston,this pair is made from a lighter, more delicate cloth, a clear departure from the military/hard wearing roots of khaki clothing. I wear this pair almost exclusively with a blazer and tie. Dressy for when no one else is and confidence is your only weapon.

Far right, vintage army khakis. Thicker than the others, heavier than  the others. These are the real deal, the pair I use for working around the house, running errands, or anything that involves a lot of driving.

I still have an old pair of J.Crew 'essential chinos" too. Stained with paint from the kids' bedroom, they are soft and comfortable, perfect for anytime when I have real work to do. I even wear them out sometimes, in spite of the recent paint splattered khaki silliness some designers have engaged in lately. 

You'll often here clothing blogs give the advice to young men that when starting to build a wardrobe, it helps to find good less expensive versions of things to start with until you can afford to move up to the better stuff. This is where my point about how thrift shops can be less of a compromise than "big box" stores come into it. You can still begin with starter stuff, at a price so cheap that you're not wasting your time or money on inferior goods. You don't even have to participate in the corporate cycle to acquire them. Better still, when the opportunity to upgrade comes along, you can step up to the better stuff for the same price, and it will effectively be a reward for your patience and perseverance. 

p.s. Indiegogo, remember? Push, push, push!

p.p.s. I began writing this post last night, then saved the draft. Seems it got hacked and published with some added weird stuff at the end. My apologies to anyone who read it in its weird version. I've fixed the problem and completed the post properly.

14 May 2013

Free Stuff : Beckett Simonon Shoes

A while back, I was approached by the owners of Beckett-Simonon about reviewing a pair of their shoes. For those who don't know, Beckett-Simonon produces a small range of classically styled shoes, all for $89 a pair. Their styles include longwings, derbies and chukka boots, in a selection of colors. For my pair, I chose chukkas in a medium brown called "chestnut". 

Given the amount of shopping I do in thrift stores, it can be difficult for me to be objective at times about the value of new goods. After all, I have shell cordovan shoes in my closet that should sell for over $600 that I got for less than $10. But I'll do my best to be fair.

I like the fact that Beckett-Simonon is offering new shoes at a decent price. These would be great for a younger guy just building his wardrobe, without a lot to spend. The styles are classic, the shoes are pretty well made, and I must admit, very comfortable to wear. Much of what they carry may not be dressy enough for a business suit, but they are versatile enough to work with a sports jacket and tie or jeans.  The leather may not be the best there is, bit its decent, and the shoes are less than $100. I see them the same way I see much of what J. Crew offers. It's perfectly reasonable stuff designed with a good sense of style, if perhaps a bit youthful. It's easily had, and will serve a man well until he decides to take the plunge into the better(more expensive) stuff...or if you're lucky, until you find the better stuff for nothing at thrift.

I talk a lot about thrift stores here, but it worth mentioning that for a lot of people, even veteran thrifters, old shoes can be where the line is drawn. In that case, these guys are perfect, offering something new at a fair price. 

Sizing seems to run a bit small. I wear a US 10, sometimes 9 1/2, but my pair of chukkas is a 10 1/2 and they fit fine. They've been shelved for now, but I expect will be in the regular casual/jeans rotation come Fall.

p.s. $1370 raised so far in our Indiegogo campaign. What a great start! Thanks to all who contributed and helped get the word out. Let's keep the ball rolling.

11 May 2013

Mad for Plaid...always

Above we see two recently acquired plaid jackets,both now part of my own Affordable Wardrobe. One is for Summer, and one is for Winter. Both are knockout punches, in their way.
One for now, in paper thin real India madras. The colorway is classic, and just loud enough. Wearing this jacket is like wearing nothing at all.
Store brand from some store I never heard of...my favorite kind of score....in Bermuda no less. I'll take a tag from a long gone men's shop over a well known expensive brand name almost every time. This is about as "preppy" or "trad" as it gets, I guess.
One for later, in luxurious soft tweed, brown check with rust and blue accents. This one will need to spend some time waiting in the closet, but it will give something to look forward to in September.
Made in Italy of Loro Piana fabric, entirely New Zealand Merino wool, soft Neapolitan shoulders, high gorge lapels, and side vents, about as hot sh*t European as it gets.

Two very different jackets, but they appeal to me equally, if for different reason. Extremely different though they may be, I see no good reason why they can't live in the same wardrobe. Or maybe I'm just talking like an Italian kid who grew up in Boston.

An Affordable Wardrobe....Storefront?

A storefront wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I launched the Indiegogo campaign a few days ago.I was looking at office space, but I find this place irresistible. Built in to the first floor of a house, it's just right for what will become the actual An Affordable Wardrobe shop. If I can raise $600 more by Monday I'll be able to make the initial payment and sign the lease for a public opening in September. If you live in the Boston area, you'll be able to shop in person.If you live anywhere else, I'll be able to expand and improve my webstore, offering new stuff much more frequently. Any help is appreciated. Many thanks to those of you who have already contributed.

Contribute here.

07 May 2013

Here We Go-Go!

It's never been easy for me to ask for help, and harder still to ask for money,so bear with me a little here.

As many of you know, I started this blog five years ago because my friends and I saw a gap in the then burgeoning online menswear community. We discovered the blogs in their infancy, and being the clothes-mad bunch we are, followed them with a voracious appetite. They showed us the good stuff and the good life, but much like the magazines and books that preceded them, didn't really offer much advice for the less-than-well-to-do. I had been both hooked on the good stuff and broke my whole life, and had developed quite a knack for overcoming the shortfalls of my wallet. With the encouragement of those friends, An Affordable Wardrobe was born.

In the beginning, I couldn't believe anyone was reading outside that small circle of friends, let alone commenting. When I held the first Top Shelf Flea Market, now nearing it's seventh edition, I was humbled by the turn-out. When I launched my own online shop, it was more than I could have imagined I'd be doing when I first sat down to pen my tales of penury and cheapskate-ism. But more than all this, the friends I've made, even in far flung places, are the supreme reward.

Now for the really tacky part. I think it's time to take the next step and move An Affordable Wardrobe out of the house and into it's own space. That's why I've launched a campaign on Indiegogo. My hope is to raise enough money to rent an upstairs space and fit it out like an old school haberdashery. Think Alan Flusser, only crazy cheap and second hand. This will not only allow me to keep open hours but also bring the web shop to a new level, offering more new items with greater frequency and turn over shipping more quickly. I've already scouted out a few good spots in the Greater Boston area, but just need a little help to get the papers signed. 

So many of you have been so kind in the past. If you've ever thought of helping me out in this labor of love, now's your chance. If you can't contribute, please tell your friends and spread the word through all the usual media channels. Every little bit helps. In return,I promise to keep the begging to a minimum here. 

For more info, see here, or click the Indiegogo logo in the sidebar.

Penury may indeed be no excuse, but every now and then a fella could use a couple of bucks.

Thank you,


p.s. link added. Thanks Bob. oops

05 May 2013

Horse Trading

In Zach's first half of this post, he writes of the serendipity that is crucial to successful thrift shopping. I've often written of the virtues of patience when it comes to this stuff. For me, the trade we dealt last Winter of two "different but the same" polo coats involves a good deal of both.

When I found the polo coat that eventually found its way to Zach, I was happy. I had wanted a classic polo coat since high school, when I first learned what one was. At the time, I was heavily obsessed with 1930s/40s dress up, and the polo coat had all the details to match. Its a testament to the classic styling of the coat that no matter how my tastes varied with time, my desire to have one never waned. I paid thrift store premium for the coat, and wore it a few times, but was never more than 98% happy with it, and not exactly sure why. Then it hit me.
The coat I had lusted after these twenty years wasn't just a polo coat, it was the Polo polo coat, as seen here. Ralph Lauren was in top for in the early 90s, when ads like this were running ( note the correct fit of the clothing. This was before designers were locked in a death race to make the smallest, tightest version of everything). The style was impeccable, the quality was great, and most of the stuff was being made domestically. Unfortunately for a guy like me, the prices reflected all this. But I was hooked. Only last year I had managed to acquire the equivalent double breasted navy blazer, and I'd waited twenty years for the coat. What was another Winter or two? I let Zach know I had a nice coat that might fit him, and he replied with the news that he had a polo coat too, one that might be better suited to me than it was to him.
So lo and behold, there it was! The actual coat I'd been thinking of all this time, an actual early 1990s USA made Polo polo coat. The one I'd found had a trimmer cut, in keeping with its likely early 1960s provenance; this one is fuller, with softer tailoring and a mid-calf length, details I find fitting on a coat like this.
Ralph's classic wide, knife sharp lapel, and big fat seams and edges,
Big mailbox pockets and wide turn back cuffs, with a 6x3 button stance that has clearly been rolled to the center button. 6x3::6x2, there we go again with nerdy numerical codes

A wide half belt pulled just tight enough to create soft draped folds in the back.

We agreed to a trade and both walked away happy. We didn't discuss what either of us had paid for our half of the deal, because in the end it doesn't matter. Each of us found something we wanted for a price that was more than fair, and each of us was left with a tiny pang of elusive regret, but we both came away with something better.

Having friends who are hopelessly obsessed with thrift stores as you are helps you cast a net that is exponentially wider when you consider things for their trade value. Just make sure that none of your friends are exactly your size.

03 May 2013

Horse Trading

Welcome to a new semi-regularly series called "Horse Trading". Zach of Newton Street Vintage and I  have a bad habit of trading most of our best things with each other, and this series will feature two part posts by each of us discussing the same trade. The first installment deals a very unseasonal polo coat, but it's a good place to start as it illustrates the only time where we both traded for different version of the same garment. Zach's post follows below, mine will come soon.
When Giuseppe and I team up for the markets, the wheeling and dealing starts before the clothes even leave the van. Actually, the wheeling and dealing usually starts while the clothes are being loaded into the van. Two clothes-mad menswear obsessives, a truck load of good vintage clothes, an East Cambridge old-man dive bar serving dollar 'Gansett, all the variables in the equation point to some serious sartorial commodities trading, and by "commodities" I mean stuff that 99% of the world considers old junk.

But if you're like us, and you know that the thrill of second-hand clothing involves a degree of serendipity that can't be found by throwing money around in retail chains, then you'll know that the art of the clothing trade is more than just a swap; it involves careful consideration of all the ways in which these clothes have value.

Before I wax too poetic about this I'll set the stage. G and I show up for the White Eagle Bazaar (at the aforementioned East Cambridge old-man dive bar) wearing nearly identical polo coats, both of which we thrifted, and neither of which were quite right for their wearers. Mine was an 80's  USA-Made Polo Ralph polo coat, with all the details that make a polo coat a polo coat, and big, broad sweeping peaked lapels that I love about all things Ralph does with peaked lapels. Trouble was, the sleeves were a bit short and it was a bit big through the middle. 
Giuseppe's coat was of older vintage, 60's Filene's, with with almost all the same details, only slightly shorter in the body than my Ralphie, with more conservative peaked lapels that curved with a bit more "belly" than Ralph's broad, straight peak. The Filene's also had a hooked vent, which I found to be a nice nod to 60s Ivy without looking too much like period costume.

Our usually frantic pre-market set-up was put on hold while we took turns trying on the coats and weighing the ins and outs of a potential trade. They both had roughly equivalent resale value, but Giuseppe's Filene's coat had more history to it. I liked the lapels on the Ralph but found the length on the Filene's to be better. The hooked vent was speaking to me, a detail that I hadn't seen on polo coats before. It came down to a matter of fit, and in the end G and I both came away with coats that fit us better than the ones we walked in with.

words and photos by Zachary De Luca