30 August 2014

#Menswear 1970

Lately I've been catching up on all the old movies I'm supposed to have seen but actually haven't. Last night  it was Five Easy Pieces. An excellent movie to be sure, but since this is a clothing blog, I'm going to focus on vintage 1970 menswear style via Jack Nicholson's character Bobby Dupea. Amazingly, he manages to wear an excellent and stylish example of nearly every #menswear trend popular today. Times may change, but #menswear, or what was then called menswear, doesn't.
We have the Well Curated Authentic Heritage Americana #workwear thing nailed down tight. Red Wing boots, selvage denim, American made heavy flannel shirts, it's all there. The only difference between 1970 and today is that this character works on a oil rig in California, as opposed to a tech office in a converted Bushwick warehouse loft with a Foosball table and a place to take a nap during business hours.
We have the #ivy #preppy thing to the hilt when he puts on a tweed suit with a natural shoulder, 3/2 roll, two button cuff, and flat front pants. His #ocbd has an epic collar roll and pairs perfectly with a knit tie. The only difference between 1970 and today is this character comes from old money, and as such learned how to dress this way from a source other than the internet.
An excellent dose of New England casual is served up in the form of a turtleneck and brown corduroy jacket, again with natural shoulder, 3/2 roll, and two button cuff, worn with selvage denim. The only difference between 1970 and today is that his jeans appear to be washed when they get dirty.
And bonus points for the maroon satin jacket with knit collar and cuffs, worn in the iconic "Chicken salad sandwich hold the chicken" scene. The only difference between 1970 and today is nobody called this jacket #streetwear.
We even get a whiff of pretensious #menswear style in the form of Bobby's brother Carl. The only difference between 1970 and today is that apparently being an ascot wearing snoot got you a broken neck, rather than fame and accolades as a leading #igent.

Also, back then people only used words that were in the dictionary, and the "hashtag" was known as a "number sign".

23 August 2014

The Virtues of Perseverance

Back in the 90s, my Dad had a subscription to GQ. This was in the end days of GQ being a publication for professional men interested in adult topics, rather than a pop rag full of twenty somethings in clothes that don't fit. I read it back then, and even though I may hate to admit being influenced by a magazine, I was. All those now famous Polo ads from the heyday were there, and the clothing photo spreads featured some pretty great stuff. Sure, the models were young, athletic, and handsome, but the clothes fit properly and it was obvious that the demographic was grown ups.

I'd see an outfit like the one pictured above. The model would probably be photographed descending a flight on stone steps on the front of an old official looking building, briefcase in one hand while checking his watch or hailing a cab. Or maybe he'd be in the park buying a hot dog from a street vendor while an attractive young lady in a business suit admired him from behind a newspaper. The caption would read something like this:

Dashing and simple, you can't go wrong with a good grey suit and blue striped shirt. Suit by Polo Ralph Lauren, $1295; shirt by Brooks Brothers, $149; tie by Robert Talbott, $125; belt by Coach; shoes by W.S.Foster and Sons.

I lusted after those things then, and I did my best in my teenage way to fake it with bargains and thrift shop purchases. In retrospect I missed the mark by a mile, but I was a kid and still just learning. I stuck with it, kept what was good and discarded the rest, in terms of both clothing and knowledge.  All these years later, I finally have the Polo suit, the Brooks Brothers shirt, and the Robert Talbott tie, albeit for a lot less money. I sometimes buy hot dogs from a street vendor, though I'm not sure how many attractive young ladies in business suits are admiring from behind a newspaper.

Perseverance is a virtue.

21 August 2014

The Jams

In Boston, we are fortunate enough to have excellent jazz programming on the radio every day from 5:00 am until 1:00 pm, thanks to Harvard's radio station WHRB. It may be hopelessly old fashioned, but that's still how I find out about a lot of the music I eventually come to love. I hear new things on the radio, write down the names and seek them out. Add to that my late-to-the-party discovery of discogs.com and we have a potentially dangerous situation. Most recently I discovered the album "Puttin' It Together" by the Elvin Jones trio, currently on it's way to the house. "Sweet Little Maia" is from that album. Besides being a mega-jam, this performance serves a triumvirate of style lessons, hence making it loosely appropriate for a clothing blog.

Elvin Jones, the groups leader and drummer, keeps things simple and classy in a plain tuxedo, not unlike what he often wore during his six year stint with the massively influential John Coltrane Quartet. The tie tucked under the shirt collar may be a dated, and the barrel cuffs on what appear to be a normal white shirt rather than a pleated formal one remind of that old style casual black tie that we lost sight of in the last forty years. Despite how you might feel about these inconsequential transgressions, playing the drums as well as Elvin does kind of gives you a pass.

Jimmy Garrison, also late of the John Coltrane Quartet, shows us that maybe, just maybe, there are situations in which a Nehru jacket and turtleneck can be not only acceptable, but downright cool. Those situations include being Jimmy Garrison and performing jaw dropping bass solos in 1968. Don' try it at home.

Joe Farrell presents a style anomaly. His look is very high school chemistry teacher, and I can almost feel the thickness of his polyester through the screen. But he proves that just because you're a badly dressed white guy playing a soprano sax doesn't necessarily mean you're painfully lame. This of course flies in the face of Kenny G.'s entire musical career.

Can't wait for this record to arrive. Once it does, I can almost guarantee that it will be in regular rotation on the turntable at the AAW Shop. Drop by some Saturday if you want to give it a listen.

16 August 2014

New Old Boston : A Visit to Bully Boy Distillers

Bottles of Bully Boy "Boston Rum" being packaged at the distillery

Remarkably, for all the years I have spent in the business of selling booze, I had never been to a brewery, winery, or distillery. Just the other day I decided to change that with a visit to Boston's own Bully Boy Distillers. Hidden away in a nondescript aluminum garage, across the street from the back side of an elementary school no less, I may never have even found the place if it weren't for the  fact that the weather was warm and one of the doors was partially open, and I could see a stack of oak liquor barrels inside.

I've been familiar with Bully Boy spirits these last few years they've been on the market, selling them in the store. Initially only white spirits were available, as the "brown goods" as we call them take some time to age. I knew they were small and local and the liquor was good, so I was happy to recommend them. A few years later when a dark "Boston Rum" and an aged "American Straight Whiskey" hit the scene, I was hooked, being more of a brown goods guy myself. 
To call them "small batch" almost doesn't describe it. This place is tiny. A two door garage, divided into two rooms. On the right, a tasting bar, office, bottling and packaging line, and the still itself fill one room. 
In the other room, barrels of whiskey and rum line both walls, stacked to the ceiling. Large plastic fermenting tanks take up the center of the room, along with tanks of molasses and pallets of grain. In the foreground of this shot, a tank of molasses undergoes initial fermentation on its way to becoming rum, while another tank holds a fermenting "mash" of 45% corn, 45% rye, and 10% wheat that will become whiskey. It's a tight squeeze, but brothers Will and Dave Willis obviously run a clean, tight ship.
It all gets distilled in tiny batches on a German made copper still. Running the still for an entire day, Will tells me, yields only a few gallons of raw liquor. That's something to think about when considering the price of a good bottle.

Bully Boy's story is a good one, and as I speak with co-owner Will Willis his passion not only for craft distilling, but also for history, and the city of Boston, is clear. Will tell's me that Bully Boy started with an interest to bring back Boston's long lost but storied distilling tradition. He and his brother Dave grew up on a farm in Massachusetts, where they discovered an old family vault containing a rare collection of old liquor bottles, all locked up there apparently as a secret stash during prohibition. The name "Bully Boy" was the name of a favorite horse of his Grandfather's, and references not only Teddy Roosevelt, but also the old Bully Boys of Boston, the hard working folks who did the dirty work for Boston blue blood "Brahmin" society. The brothers take their cues form these old bottles, and offer a set of spirits that have a fun nod to history and an inherent "Boston"-ness about them, while still remaining unique and somewhat modern. All of this is offered at a very fair price at retail, no easy feat.
Old bottles found in vault at the farm. "Cow Whiskey"?!? Bully Boy used these as inspiration for the design of their own labels.

The white spirits all retail for roughly $30 per bottle, and are clean, direct expressions of their ingredients and the brothers attention to quality. The vodka is clean and bright, despite having been distilled only once rather than the multiple times common these days, proof you can get it right on the first try. The white rum has a glycerin texture and just the right sweetness without being heavy, great with tonic and lime. The white whiskey is perhaps similar to the vodka, but has more of a biscuit bread note to it. I've actually had it in a margarita in place of tequila and it was quite good.

The brown spirits are a whiff more expensive, but still quite reasonable at around $35. Their American Whiskey qualifies as neither Bourbon nor Rye, being only 45% corn and 45% rye, shy of the 51% of either of those needed to bear the names. As such, it bears some of the better attributes of both: the sweetness of bourbon tempered with the spicy qualities of rye. It's got plenty of flavor, and a good bit of chew, yet it's light on it's feet and mellow at 84 proof. Great as a sipper, I also like it mixed with lemon juice and club soda, garnished with peach slices.  "Boston Rum", the same initial distillate as the white rum, finishes it's aging in the charred whiskey barrels once the whiskey leaves them. It's dark amber in color, rich and chewy, and being made from molasses really hearkens back perhaps more than any of their other products to Boston's old liquor history. We are a port town, after all, and sailors love rum. Sip this one in a snifter or try it on the rocks with muddled lime and sugar.

You won't find Bully Boy far from Boston, at least not yet. If you're a local and you haven't tried it, get out there and do it. Any good bar in town stocks it by now. If you're visiting Boston, do yourself a favor and take some home. It makes a way better souvenir than a Red Sox t-shirt made in china that you can get anywhere. Bully Boy distillers is a real taste of the New Old Boston.

15 August 2014


Amanda Kersey of WGBH, Boston public radio/tv/news source, kindly visited the AAW Shop a couple of weeks ago. A few days later, she tagged along on a "hunting trip" with me, where I did a lot of pontificating from the drivers seat. The result is this nice piece at the WGBH website. Thanks, Amanda. It was fun working with you.

13 August 2014

Free Stuff: Knot Standard, part 1

The world of so-called "online custom" has exploded in recent years, and as a lover of fine clothes who is also a consummate cheapskate, I want to believe that while this is in no way the same as real bespoke, that someone will hit it well enough that it could at least be a viable option for well crafted clothes made of good fabric at a price that is at least imaginable for many men. A few months back I was contacted by Knot Standard about doing a review of one of their jackets, and decided to give them a a go. Despite my less than glowing experience in the past, I really want to believe that this can work if you know how to pull it off right.

Knot Standard's ordering process is like many others in that it asks you to input a very specific set of measurements in order to cut a "pattern" from which to make your garment. If I've learned anything from bad experiences it's this: you can't measure yourself properly, and neither can your significant other. This time out, I wrote down all the measurements they asked for and had my tailor take them for me. This not only ensures a more accurate and impartial set of numbers, but in a way gets closer to actual custom, in that a professional took my measurements, even if he wasn't the same person who made the final garment.

Within five weeks or so of placing the order, my jacket arrived. I chose a cobalt blue 100% linen fabric in a slubby herringbone weave by Holland and Sherry. Upon opening the box, I was immediately impressed. The cloth was high quality, the construction was excellent, and all my specific detail requests were met exactly, in this case: 3/2 darted front, natural shoulders, side vents, three open patch pockets, two button surgeon cuffs, and a partial lining. See below:
 Note the correct "old style" button placement, with a high top button in line with the breast pocket.
 Blue and white gingham bemberg lining is a plus, as well as properly taped exposed edges.
A two button surgeon cuff is more than a bit unusual, but they did it, and did it well at that, no questions asked. Check that slub.

As for fit the jacket was very close. But the only troubling thing was the fact that the shoulders were a whiff too tight. Not much, but enough to be a thing that would prevent me from wearing this jacket much.So I contacted my man at the place and told him. At first, he asked that I consult a tailor and offered up to $75 to cover alterations. I replied that the shoulders were just too tight, but added that as this was a gratis garment I didn't want to be greedy and demand a remake. My man than replied that this was nonsense, and of course they would remake my jacket to fit. His only regret was that it will take an additional 4-6 weeksto complete the task, and that by the time I receive that second jacket, Summer will be over and it will be too late to wear it.

Ah well, there's always next year.
The price of this jacket would have been $395. That's no small change for a cheapskate. However, this jacket is extremely well constructed of excellent fabric and was delivered in relatively short order. That jacket you might get in the store at Joe Banks or Mens Wearhouse for that same price? This is miles better. And while I did have fit issues, customer service and communication have been great with these guys. So far, so good. Can't wait to see how the replacement works out.

09 August 2014

Perils of Thrifting : A Law of Averages

The " Law of Averages" we discussed in our last post does of course have a converse side to it. When you buy old things, you are of course buying things which have been worn previously. There will be no real way of knowing how much they were worn, and how well the previous owner, or in some cases owners, took care of his garments. Sometimes, a great find doesn't last too long once you have it. It's especially true of lighter materials like cotton and linen. I've had no end of great shirts bite the dust after I've worn and washed them only once or twice.

After wearing it only half a dozen times, the trousers to my recently acquired seersucker suit have reached the end. Torn wide open, down the seat and partway down one leg, they are now irreparably damaged. Remember what I said about the difficulty of finding old seersucker in good condition? Well, turns out that's very true.I suppose it's partly my fault for wearing it to work on a night when I had to bend and lift a number of cases of wine, but it's disappointing nonetheless.

But that's really all it is, a disappointment, and a relatively small one at that. Perhaps it's my years spent selling perishable goods at my other job, but I've learned to accept that there will be a certain amount of inevitable loss that needs to be factored in here. The trick is to try to keep that loss to a minimum. And as the law of averages states, even accounting for loss, alterations, and mishaps, I still come out very far ahead. Plus, there always an element of chance involved, which I suppose is sort of fun, I guess. Beats hell out of satisfying that fix with scratch tickets anyway.

p.s. make with the fat jokes all you like. This happened two weeks ago, and I already heard them all from those present at the time, and of course Mrs. G and the children.

02 August 2014

Rules of Thirfting : A Law of Averages

Thrift shopping, and living cheaply most of the time, is something of a game without rules. There are so many vagaries to contend with, and so much chance involved that the only "rule" that's true all the time is that anything can happen at any time. After a while, you learn to see the big picture as something of a law of averages.

The suit pictured above is my own most recent acquisition. Very dressy, perhaps even a whiff out of character for me, but until now I had never seen a double breasted three piece suit in the flesh. It's like a unicorn, the stuff of legend, seen only in black and white movies. Rendered in heavy but soft nailhead flannel and replete with 1930s details, made custom for someone in the mid-90s in New York by Alan Flusser, at $100, I simply couldn't resist. 

The suit will need a bit of alterations, but there's no hurry since it's a winter cloth. The alterations it does need are a little unusual though. The trousers and vest fit perfectly, and the sleeves are just the right length, which is good as it has surgeon cuffs (working buttonholes). The odd thing is that despite the trouser waist being just right, the jacket waist needs to come in, and despite the inseam and sleeves being just right, the coat needs to be shortened by a half an inch or so. The waist is an easy, common alteration, but shortening the coat will take some work and cost some money. It's not an alteration that is always possible, as you run the risk of spoiling the coats proportions, but in this case, the buttons and pockets are set in such a way that half an inch will work. The coat has side vents which are cut deep enough to take the loss of length, and because the coat is double breasted, it has corners at the front rather than the curved edges found on a single breasted coat, making this task a little easier to accomplish.

So here's how this law of averages works. While $100 may be an incredible deal for a suit of this calibre, it is well more than what I usually pay for a second hand suit. The alterations will likely cost about $100 as well. By comparison as I write this I am wearing another thrifted suit that cost $40 and needed no alterations, and my favorite all purpose navy blazer was less than $10. You simply can't expect any kind of consistency in pricing any  more than you can expect to find a specific thing on a specific day. When taken as part of an average the cost of all my clothes, this suit is cheaper even in a sense than what I paid for it. Besides, thrift shop long enough and $200 all in becomes an expensive guilty splurge on a spectacular suit, when most other people are ready to spend as much on diffusion line "Chaps Ralph Lauren" suit, or something similarly lackluster, at a place like Kohl's. Besides, there's adventure and chance involved in thrift shopping, which for the professional cheapskate is more than half the fun. And the smarmy feeling of self satisfaction that comes with knowing that you got one over on that guy who bought his cheap suit at Kohl's is kind of priceless.