07 January 2014

The Perfect Suit

Persistence truly is a high virtue, if not the high virtue, for anyone wanting to succeed in the crazy world of thrift shopping. In this post, I am pleased to announce that after more than twenty years of active and regular thrift shopping, I have finally managed to acquire one of the most elusive, and yet most basic, wardrobe items via thrift: the perfect grey flannel suit.
You may think that given some of the crazier things I find in a thrift store that something as simple as a charcoal grey flannel suit would be easy, almost a commodity. After all, despite the fact that standards of common dress have fallen so very far in the past couple of generations, a charcoal grey suit remains one of the few things still considered bread and butter among those who still work in suits. But it's for that very reason that they are so hard to come by. Men in suits still buy and wear dark grey suits, but that's just the problem: they wear them. Being men, they wear them until they are no longer wearable. For many businessmen, the jacket is removed upon arrival at the office, and as a result the trousers wear more quickly. Eventually, the orphaned jacket winds up at the thrift, while the trousers go to the trash. The same is largely true of navy suits. In a very real sense, you have better chance of finding a tuxedo.  Not only is this one complete, but it is especially excellent and perfect, and my acquisition of it involves the story of a convoluted three way thrift shopping trade.

A a few months ago, I found a wonderful polo coat from the Andover Shop. It was in great condition, had all the right details, and fit me well. Trouble was I already had a polo coat by Polo (also acquired through trade), and even though the more recent one was technically better, I found I preferred Ralph's number. That peaked lapel he was doing back in the 90s is a force to be reckoned with.( I'spoken of the "better isn't always best" rule here.) So I traded it away to Zach, for a suit in taupe nailhead, also from the Andover Shop. A great suit with great details, but too small for me. I figured I'd sell it for about as much as I might have gotten for the coat.

Enter D, a fellow I know who is very thin, and also a mad thrifter. He visited my shop one Saturday, tried on the taupe number, and it fit him like a glove. He offered to trade for a suit he'd gotten that was far too big for him, the elusive grey flannel. Goods were exchanged, hands shook, and in the end we all wound up with a worthy item. Andover Shop second hand love triangle. Crazy.
Besides being made of beautiful heavy but butter soft flannel, this suit has what I consider to be the perfect combination of details: a three and a half inch lapel, and classic soft, natural shoulders,
a two button darted front and four button surgeon cuffs (i.e. working button holes). Surgeon cuffs are great, but they can be the kiss of death in second hand. If the sleeves need alteration, you're basically s**t out of luck. In this case, the length is perfect. All the button holes are hand stitched,
and side vents for the final Anglo-American touch. I used to hate side vents, until the first time I tried on a jacket that fit well that had them. Now I prefer them, but not exclusively. 
But it's the trousers that are the real corker here. Double forward pleated with side tabs set below the waist band, brace buttons, and a slightly fuller cut leg. What's most striking is the fact that this suit is a matched set of clothes coming from two places. 
The suit hails originally from the Andover Shop, which explains the perfection of the synthesis of English and American details in the jacket. Nobody pulls that off like Charlie. Put the final dash of insouciance on it with a button down oxford and knit tie.  The jacket was made in the USA, likely at Southwick, a made to measure job. The trousers were made elsewhere.

The Andover Shop employs an elderly Italian man named Benito as it's trouser-maker. Customers who order custom trousers will have them hand made in an apartment in Cambridge, Mass. Such is the case with these. The set of the pleats and the shape and placement of the side tabs are his signature. The man who bought this suit must have made a special request that Benito cut him some trouser from the same cloth. Awesome. I can only assume that this man either gained or lost a significant amount of weight, as I can think of no other remotely good reason to get rid of something as wonderful as this. 

This really is the perfect suit, at least for me anyway. It's a deep rich grey, the fabric is superb, and the distinct combination of details is everything I'd have chosen myself. In fact, this is more like what I had in my mind when I had my Imparali suit made a while back. You'll remember I ordered a grey suit then sighting the difficulty I'd had finding one thrift. I still like that suit, but only wish I had communicated what I was after a little better. Now that I have this one, the problem is solved. I suppose the hidden moral, or "rule of thrifting", here is not to underestimate the power of trade. Thrift crazy people tend to attract one another, and by trading amongst themselves everyone's net gets cast a little wider.

Here's to many more icy cold, flannel appropriate weeks. You won't find me complaining about the cold, as long as I can wear this suit under my polo coat.


Young Fogey said...

What a beautiful garment!

It took me only three or four years to find my tuxedo, but six or seven years into serious thrifting, I'm still waiting for a gray suit.

Lucky for me I have one from back when I was single and had money for a quality gray suit.

WSTKS-FM Worldwide said...

Not much else to say except, "WOW!"

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.

Anonymous said...

Pleats are for Squares. Period.

Joe said...

Wow. I could make a list of all the non-squares who have worn/wear pleats, but it would take too long. Besides, it's no use arguing with such broad generalisations.

Talk to me in a year or two, when the fashion crowd switches gears and starts telling you plain front is passé.

Joe said...

Or, as Charlie Davidson says, "pleats are for grownups."

Anonymous said...

That's a beautiful suit - congratulations!

The man either gained or lost weight or, most likely, died, and the suit was donated by his widow or kids.

I remember my father having a suit with two pairs of pants. Isn't this done anymore?

Anonymous said...

The 1960s called. They want their words back.

Anonymous said...


Nice suit!

As for pleats, I purchased a pair of pleated trousers from you last fall. They look fantastic and anger exactly the right people at my office.

---Danny from Bellevue

Anonymous said...

So Joe is an advocate of pleats and darts now.
How about that.

Boston Bean said...

I was going to comment that pleats are for adults, and then saw that Charlie Davidson beat me to it. In my book, trousers without pleats are almost as bad as trousers with low waists/high crotches.

Joe said...

Anon. 6:39'

Again, a broad genralization. I was wearing flat front cords when I wrote this, and I still have a lot on undarted jackets that I wear with regularity. What I advocate is a constantly growing an evolving sense of style not bound by self imposed, minute, and generally meaningless rules. To reject a suit as beautiful as this one out of hand because it has pleated trousers is to reveal oneself not as man of style, but a man who likes the safety of following rules.

How about that.

Anonymous said...

An undarted suit jacket with hooked vent and forward pleated trousers has been a thing at the Andover Shop for decades. Brooks Brothers also paired pleated trousers with undarted jackets in the 80s. The former only precludes the latter if you get 100% of your information about clothes on the internet.

Joe said...

Precisely. I just got a Brooks Brothers poplin suit with forward pleats. And what about all those undarted "ivy" jackets with side vents? Or the notch lapel tuxedos so popular in the 1960s? So many of those "rules" weren't as we imagine them in their day. The internet has a way of putting a laser beam fetishism on the past.

Eazye said...

Fantastic! I've got a vintage BB Golden Fleece number that I got in a trade with another member over at style forum. Now that you are a member, be prepared for a whole world of options opening up to you. Cheers!