27 February 2014

Rules of Thrifting : Develop Your Eye

I recently posted two rare and wonderful items for sale on Ebay, and while I like to keep the commercial aspect of things to a minimum around here, the provenance of both of these items speaks to a very important rule of thrifting that bears discussion here. Anyone can look through the obvious stuff, but it takes a seasoned pro to find things were they really don't belong, and "an eye" for this sort of thing can only come with practice and experience.

Pictured above is vintage men's dressing gown made of heavy but butter soft wool, made in England by Welch Margetson and Sons for Dunhill of New York, likely 1940s. I found this garment hidden in a rack of women's overcoats. As I passed by the rack, something about the finish of the cuffs and the piping at the lapel caught my eye, so I stopped to look. That extra minute was all it took. I might not have looked through an entire rack of women's coats, but practice has trained my eye to rest on little details that might yield a surprise result. Conversely, a rack of men's sleepwear is likely to have mostly, if not all, cheap flannel pyjama bottoms from Target and Old Navy. I'd love to keep it, and wear it with silk pyjamas and velvet slippers, but fancy house clothes and I don't mix, since I'm likely to be washing dishes, doing laundry, or some other mundane and potentially dirty task in them. Still, I hope it finds a lovely home (auction info here).

Not too much later I found this vintage flannel rowing blazer. I saw this hanging at the end of a rack of business suits in the women's department of another store. It's buttons had been replaced with some awful fake jewel buttons, and the sleeves had been "altered" by having the cuffs turned up and under about two inches and badly stitched on the inside. I took out the stitches, steamed the cuffs and sewed on some gold buttons I had laying around, which is what this jacket should have in the first place. I'm sad to see this one go, but I'm about two inches short for it and I don't think I'll be spending much time on a boat, or near one, any time soon. (auction info here).

I'm not suggesting that there's no organization in thrift shops, and certainly some are better than others, but it tends to be the more unusual garments, the ones with details that most normal people would assume are effeminate these days, that might wind up in the ladies clothes. The robe may look masculine enough in the photos I took, but its set in a very masculine context. The piping on the rowing blazer is not something common in menswear anymore, except in the most rarefied circles, and many of those folks aren't haunting the thrift shops. By the same token, brightly colored bits of silk may seem to most people like a women's accessory, but I find most of pocket squares in bins full of ladies scarves. For that matter, women's jacket styled like menswear often mix with the men's clothing in these places too.

The point here is to keep an open mind, and do what you can to develop a sharp eye for detail and imaginative shopping techniques. Sometimes the best garments are hidden in plain sight if you only just look for them.

22 February 2014

Worth Every Penny: Koval Whiskey

When I first started working in the liquor trade (or "adult beverage industry" as modern euphemism would call it) the vodka boom was just beginning. Starting with Grey Goose, we saw one vodka after another hit the shelves, in increasingly fancy bottles with increasingly high price tags. Trouble was, with vodka the better it is, the less there is too it, and so much of those high price tags were nothing but marketing. So I was thankful in the last few years when Bourbon, Rye, and whiskey in general became trendy. I may rail on the Brooklyn/moustache/artisinal hipster crowd, but the rising popularity of whiskey and the greater availability of interesting selections has been a welcome by-product of that culture.

Most interesting to me have been the new crop of whiskies that don't fall into the traditional three categories of Bourbon, Scotch or Rye. It's been fun to taste some of the interesting things that a number of newer distillers have brought us. In recent months I've tried a number of spirits labeled only as "American Whiskey" that have been well crafted and memorable. Favorite among them has the been the whiskies of Chicago's Koval Distillery.

I've been lucky enough to have tried three of their offerings lately. Oat whiskey is a big and chewy like a good Bourbon, but nowhere near as sweet. Despite its fatness, it's light on its feet and smooth as silk. The rye whiskey is spicy as one might expect, but balanced by an interesting banana cream quality that is quite striking. It made one hell of a drink with ice and Fever Tree Bitter Lemon. I personally purchased a bottle of Four Grain, pictured above. Distilled from an unusual mash bill of oats, barley, rye, and wheat, it is packed with flavors of bread and spice wrapped in a vaguely fruity background. Again, deceptively light, this one wears it 94 proof quite well. While there is a clear and cohesive house style to all these whiskies, I have to say my favorite thing about them may just be the difficulty I have in describing them, as they don't cleanly compare to the whiskies I've had before. In a business fraught with hifalutin lingo and silly descriptors, its nice to encounter a product that defies all that but is simply so good that its quality can't be denied. 

Koval's whiskies are all made of organic grain grown by Mid-Western farmers and are rested in custom made new oak barrels.With bonus points awarded for the clean but approachable modernism of their package design, Koval seems to prove that "artisinal" hipsterism can exist without being completely obnoxious, or maybe I'm just saying that because they aren't that hip. If you're a jaded whiskey drinker who thinks he's tasted it all, seek these guys out for the refreshing experience of trying something new.Hovering at about $50 for each type, Koval whiskies are worth every penny.

15 February 2014


It's easy to accumulate too many things as a collector. Add to that being a thrift shopper and the possibility for crossing the line from collecting into hoarding comes dangerously close. Nowhere does this problem manifest itself more clearly than with neckties. Fortunately I still maintain a grip on the situation, if a very tenuous one, and I regularly cull my own tie collection, only to make room for more acquisitions.

This week, I was putting a number of my own ties up for sale in the web shop, when I came to this one and it gave me pause. It's a hunter green tie with woven orange motif of Manneken Pis, the (in)famous fountain in Brussels, Belgium (which amazingly has its own website). Nabbed for less than a dollar if I remember right in a dusty shop crammed with all manner of everything, it's made of a blend of mostly polyester and a whiff of silk. Mrs. G hates it, and I have never worn it. Still, at the last moment I couldn't bear to part with it.
It's amazing to me that not only did someone have this tie manufactured, but at some point somebody commissioned this fabric. Imagine the conversation at the mill. Incredible. I have to keep it, how can I let it go, really? C'mon.  It's likely that I'll rarely wear it, if at all. But things like this are necessary, if for no other reason than to offer an occasional reminder not to take my clothes, or myself, to seriously.

Sorry, Mrs. G.

12 February 2014

British History

If you thought that #menswear culture was rarefied and nerdy, spend ten minutes talking to a beer aficionado. As someone who both works in the liquor industry and enjoys a wide variety of interesting beers, I'm practically drowning in it. 

The resurgence of a real beer culture in America has been a great thing to see. I'm just old enough to have started drinking just before it happened, and I can remember when no bar had anything more than Bud, Coors,and maybe Heineken (if you were feeling "fancy") on tap. Given the British roots that still have lingering remnants here in Boston, it's been gratifying to see what is really a return to the variety of well made beers we had before the "macro brewers" edged everyone else out of the market in the 1960s. These days the number of places offering a huge selection of all manner of things is a problem only in that its become difficult to decide what to order.

But as with anything of an artistic nature, with the flood of options came a sea of questionable choices.For a number of years, we saw the IPA craze offer us increasingly bitter, boozy, "hoppy" beers to lust after and brag about. For a time, it seemed like American brewers were locked in a contest to offer beers that were more intensely bitter than the next, pouring a tanks worth of hops into every glass. The result were many beers that were overly high in alcohol, unbalanced, and bitter to the point of being undrinkable, and yet, people were not only drinking them, but waxing poetic at great length about their beauty. It's not unlike the way in which Starbucks has convinced so many people that their coffee is "rich, complex, and flavorful" when in fact its burnt and overcooked, bitter and acidic to the point of being undrinkable. The upside of all this is that IPA exhaustion led me to rediscover the clean and direct perfection of German beer, a tradition grossly ignored in the craft beer resurgence.

However, in Winter I tend to gravitate toward the British tradition in brewing, rich malty beers with low carbonation served not quite cold. Despite the British provenance of IPA as a style, it can be hard to find a proper one. Enter Wigglesworth India Wharf Pale Ale, from Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, Mass. Mystic is an up and coming local brewery known for its Belgian style ales. Wigglesworth is a series of English beers they've rolled out in the last year or so. I can't remember the last time I really enjoyed an IPA, until now. The difference is that Wigglesworth isn't afraid to be subtle. Hoppy only just to the point where one might rightly use the word, it's got a good dose of sweet malt character to balance it's bitter side. I suspect it's more like what IPA tasted like in the nineteenth century than anything else in stores today, outside of Britain itself. Bonus points for naming after India Wharf, a nod to both the city of Boston itself and the British culture that birthed it. Just the thing to wash down a home made shepherds pie on a cold New England night.

If you live in the Boston area, seek it out. If you're visiting, take some home with you. 

p.s. Lots of great new items in the Shop this week.

06 February 2014

Free Stuff : Wool Scarf from The Tie Bar

I was recently offered a wool scarf from the Tie Bar to review here. For those that don't know, the Tie Bar is an online shop specializing in inexpensive ties and accessories. The scarves are a relatively new venture for them, and they asked me if I wouldn't mind sharing my thoughts on one here. I chose the one above, in a pattern they call "Bucktown Houndstooth", a small scale brown and tan houndstooth check with rust and hunter green accents.

I'll begin by saying I'm a fan. The wool is soft against the skin, and the scarf is a full six feet log, plenty of length to tie in a know and cover the chest for warmth. At $25, I think this is a real value, as most inexpensive scarves I've come across are either not as long or not as soft. Made in China, its true, but so are the one's at Target or any other such place and at least the Tie Bar offers them in a better choice of classic patterns than many places.

They also offer a wide range of neckties and bow ties, most for $15 or so. If you're building a tie wardrobe on a budget and can't shop thrift like I do, these could be a good option. True, they have some very flashy options I don;t really care for, but they also have stripes, plaids, and classic small patterns in wool, silk, and cotton, as well as an extensive collection of knits in both wool and silk. You can even narrow your search by width of tie, which ranges anywhere from 2-3 1/2 inches, so whether you're young and hip and into the high and tight look, or a burgeoning old fart like me who prefers a more classic cut, they've got you covered. Most websites I've encountered tend to cater to one camp or the others. I've often considered checking out some of the knit stripes, but was wary of the quality. There are a lot of fun socks offered for $8.00 a pair that look like a deal too, as well as some silk braces for $25, also not a bad price (just stay away from the clip-on suspenders. I don't care how many dudes are wearing them in Italy right now). This scarf has convinced me that their other products are likely to be well worth the money. 

03 February 2014

The Curse of the "iGent"

What a strange world it is that we clothing nerds have created for ourselves via the megalithic beast that is the "internet". We who think, care, and obsess over not just clothing itself but the infinite minutiae of details it entails have found one another, to the relief I'm sure of many a significant other who no longer has to listen to quite so much harping about the roll of a collar or the cut of a lapel. And in large part, this community is a good and wholesome thing. But as with any community, we have our bad side. In #menswear circles, our more embarrassing proclivities manifest themselves in the form of the dreaded "iGent". He's the one who gets all in a twist at the mere suggestion that any of a number of rules in a strict and mostly imaginary code of rules be even mildly transgressed, the one who wails at the very idea of pleated trousers, or flat front, depending on which particular code to which he has decided to subscribe. He's also the one most likely not to have known how to tie a tie three years ago, before this got out of hand.

I won't deny my own indulgence in iGent-ism. After all, I am writing this on a self published clothing blog bursting with self portraits meant to show the extent of my own closet. Nor will I go into too much detail about just what makes and iGent. An in depth (and quite funny) description can be found here. Nor will I rant about the foolishness of such strict code adherence, as I've already done that here, here, and elsewhere on this blog. Instead, I will illustrate the horrors that can take place when the imaginary world the iGent inhabits overlaps too much with the real one where everyone else lives.
Pictured above is a perfect example of a garment that speaks to one particular strain of iGent. It's a vintage 1960s navy blazer made in USA. It's Ivy/Trad/Preppy to the hilt, having natural shoulders, patch pockets and of course, the magical unicorn that the high holy "3/2 roll".
3/2 roll, or what the old guys at J. Press in Harvard Square call "button on center" is a hallmark detail of Ivy/Trad/Preppy whatever you call it. It's a style I like, a lot actually, and I wear it myself quite frequently. You could even say I prefer it, but it's never really been a deal breaker for me if a jacket was two button, or darted for that matter. Just as I like more than one flavor of ice cream, I like more than one cut of jacket. True, I mostly wear a natural shoulder, but that's more because it suits my build and style than because I read about it ad nauseam on the internet. In any case, this is a nice coat, and if it were my size chances are I'd keep it and wear it fairly frequently.
Pictured here is my own latest acquisition, a wonderful jacket made by Southwick for the Andover Shop in Russel Plaid, out of what must be English tweed cloth. Acquired through yet another great trade with Zach of Newton Street Vintage, it is instantly a new favorite. However, it's got just one thing wrong with it. Not a rip, not a moth hole, nothing so accidental as that, but an absolute scar inflicted upon it by the misguided tinkering of a too-far-gone iGent. 

It's safe to say that the Andover Shop is my favorite "brand". The quality is always impeccable, and the fabrics used there are nothing short of things of beauty. The house style is the perfect combination of English and American details, British influence, but always with a soft natural shoulder. This jacket is no different: rendered in thornproof British tweed in a pattern that is distinctly English, it has a two button darted front combined with a center vent and that distinctly American natural shoulder.
Trouble is that some previous owner just couldn't be satisfied with an amazing garment like this as it was, and decided to "improve" it by adding a third button and button hole, badly. The superfluous third button had been stitched on through the lapel, an aberration I removed immediately. The third buttonhole is the real crime here.
At the very least, it's placed correctly, but it's sewn poorly and with thread that is a completely different color than the two existing buttonholes the jacket was intended to have.
Sliced straight through the canvassing, the best I can hope for is that my tailor can at least refinish the hole to look less like the act of Ivy/Trad/Preppy hubris that it is. You'll have to pardon my French here, but seriously, what the f***? Who could do such a thing? Did he also try to paint his wife's eye's with nail polish because someone online said that blue eyes were WASP-ier? Why would anyone do such a thing to such a beautiful garment? Only an iGent.

The fellow who did this was certainly not the one who purchased this jacket new at the Andover Shop in the first place.No, that man would have had taste and sense enough not to spoil his clothes by adding a needless detail like this. He almost certainly purchased this at a thrift store. He saw and felt the wonderful tweed, and it fit in with the narrow but extensive set of rules the internet at large had handed him on how to dress. It was from the Andover Shop, which Googling had assured him was among the accepted brands. But alas, it was a two button front. "Not to worry", he thinks, "I can fix that. I'll just watch a couple of YouTube videos on how to make a button hole. Can't be that hard, right?" You can see this is the result of iGent-ism at its very lowest. He added this detail not because it improved the jacket, but because "3/2 roll" was something that his internet habits of Ivy League/Jazz/Steve McQueen/Weejun etc., etc., had convinced him was an imperative detail. He did this not because he was a man of style, but a copy cat merely regurgitating the things he'd seen on the screen, . In so doing, he has relegated this garment to being a nothing more than a cast off at a thrift shop. I hope my tailor can fix it, but I will wear it anyway, using that silly hole as a teaching tool. Hopefully he is reading this now, hanging his head in shame as tears drip onto the keyboard of his laptop. 

There is a wealth of information and knowledge at our fingertips these days, and it's a wonderful thing, but we need to be careful with it. You may think that by dressing well you are setting yourself apart in some way from the mindless masses dressed in logo sweatshirt and cheap sneakers, and you'd be right. But if you are foolish enough to advertise so obviously as this, at least to those who know, that you really are only doing what the internet told you, then you really aren't any different. It would of course be nothing short of hypocrisy for me to say "Don't be an iGent", have a good time and take it in stride. Just, you know, don't be an iGent.

p.s. Select items on sale now in the AAW Shop. Grab a deal while you can, and help me make room for the piles of new stuff I've got for you.