29 September 2014

Cutting The Losses (An Appeal)

Back in July, I managed to "score" the suit in the above photo from ebay. It's a custom made suit by Alan Flusser, circa mid-90s. I wrote about it shortly after receiving it, using it to illustrate my "Law of Averages" theory as it applies to thrift shopping. It's made of a heavy nailhead cloth, and it's been hanging at the back of the closet in the "on deck circle", awaiting it's trip to the tailor. Every time I take it out to bring it to be fitted, it winds up getting bumped for other pending alterations. The longer I wait, the more I contemplate whether it might not be time to cut my losses on this one.

A three piece double breasted suit, seldom seen since the 1930s, is certainly not an easy garment to come by. Simply having one is something of a second hand/cheapskate gold medal. But when will I wear it? Lord knows I don't really need it. Hell, I don't really need any of this stuff. And the cost of alterations? OK, that's it, my mind is made up....
And then Tin Tin (remember him?) posts this photo, from a mid-90s era Esquire article written by none other than Alan Flusser himself. And I see such a suit in action, and I know now that I must have it...but wait a minute, no, I don't. Perhaps you see my dilemma. Or perhaps you are a more well adjusted, level headed person who is only reading this bog and others like it to marvel at the amount of time and thought that some fellows put into something so ultimately superficial and inconsequential. In any case, I appeal to you for help.

On September 19, 2008, the fellow formerly known as "Longwing" (remember him?) commented in response to this blog's very first post:

"Thrifters have too much shit. You get used to not getting exactly what you want so you tend to buy everything that even comes close."

I refuted him then, even though I couldn't help but admit that he indeed had a very valid point. It's a mild form of hoarding sickness that I have fought hard to keep in check all my life. I feel that I do fairly well, and no doubt operating a second hand clothing business does give me a convenient outlet for unwanted or no longer needed garments. But I ask you, is this not just the sort of situation old Longwing was talking about? Do I bite the bullet and pour more cash into making this suit fit? Or do I recoup my investment and get this thing into the hands of someone an inch or so taller than me? After all, I have a pair of cream colored flannel trousers already at the tailor's awaiting pick up, and a pair of cavalry twills to be dropped off, to say nothing of the dry cleaning.

Torture and anguish, thy name is a less than perfect ebay score. Thoughts and opinions greatly appreciated.

27 September 2014

Dress for The Season...and the Weather

So it's almost October, and I'm itchy to get into my tweeds and corduroys. But as I write this, it's nearing 80 degrees in Boston. The tweeds will have to wait, but the madras and linen would be way out of place.

I recently picked up the jacket above, a recent Brooks Brothers piece. It's made of a blend of wool, linen  and silk, and I find it's handy thing to have on a day like this. The color and pattern aren't too summery, but the jacket still wears cool on a warm day.  When I packed the Summer clothes up, I left this one in rotation, along with a lightweight navy blazer in wool hopsack, and a couple of lighter weight worsted suits in dark colors. It's helpful to have clothes that bridge the gap. In the photo above, I combined the jacket with a wool knit tie, perhaps a bit unconventional, but a nod to the season, despite the warm weather. Below, a pair of charcoal worsted trousers, rather than the lightweight tan cotton I might usually put with this jacket, keep things more Fall as well.

I don't want to walk around sweating bullets in a tweed jacket and flannel slacks pretending I'm not uncomfortable any more than I want to be wearing shorts right now. Nothing is less stylish than being uncomfortable in your clothes, no matter how nice they may be. Dress for the season, but dress for the weather too.

25 September 2014

Buona Fortuna, Signor Sessa

I've lived in the same house practically all my life. Save for a brief period of "freedom" in my twenties, I live in the house my parents brought me to as a newborn baby. My mother has lived in this house for fifty years, and my children are the fourth generation of my family to be here. A short walk from the house is Sessa's Cold Cuts and Italian Specialties. Mr. Sessa has run this neighborhood Italian deli for 35 years, effectively all my life. He just sold the place to enjoy his well earned retirement.

Giancarlo (Johnny) Sessa is something of a third grandfather to me. He jokes about how despite the fact that many of his customers are much older than me, I am his oldest customer. On the weekend he opened his shop in 1979, my Nonna took me there. I was a little older than two and my brother had yet to be born. I still shop there. Notoriously surly in the true Italian (my Nonna would further specify "Napolitana") way, he always greeted me with a kindly "Come stai, Giuseppe?". We've been friends all my life.
Sessa's shop was one of my first experiences of the kind of "real thing" the internet generation can mostly only imagine. The freshest Italian cold cuts outside Italy, sliced to paper thin perfection; dried fishes and bundles of garlic hanging from the ceiling; buckets full of olives by the front door (oil cured black olives a personal favorite). At Easter, pizza chiena (pronounced in Boston "pizza gain-a") satcked high on the counter; at Christmas, pannetone of every size...for days. Vacuum sealed bricks of all the rare types of Lavazza; homemade dry cured sausages from some old lady in Malden, totally illegal; Kinder Eggs, also illegal; and always friendly Italian banter.

As a child, I remember being there every weekend, the smells, and the sounds of spoken Italian. Back then, the neighborhood was mostly Italian, and the immigrant generation, "old country" folks like my grandparents, were everywhere. In those days, nobody spoke English in Sessa's shop. It was a lively place. We would go there to buy cold cuts on Saturday. With every order, I would be given a fresh slice to taste. I would leave having eaten a sandwich worth of meat, only to go home and make a sandwich.
For the last few years, Mr. Sessa had talked about retirement. He had children, but none interested in taking the place on after him. That's him sweeping the floor, his daughter behind the counter. I recently heard he had found a buyer for the place. Today, I dropped by to thank him. He said "for what?". 

I told him that despite the fact that I am a second generation American, I have always considered myself to be "Italian". Obviously, growing up with my grandparents in a largely immigrant neighborhood had a lot to do with that. I didn't realize until I heard he was leaving that he and his store had a lot to do with it too. I didn't know how much his store and the culture it represents meant to me until I heard he was moving on.

The staff there wears aprons in large green, white, and red stripes of the Italian flag. Some twenty years ago, he gave one to my father, and I promptly stole it when my own interest in cooking began to bud. I told him how only last week I finally had to part with it. It was too stained and torn too keep anymore. I said that if I knew he was leaving I would have kept it. He went back to the kitchen and came out with a new one, saying "Don't say I never gave you nothing". I couldn't be happier. I can't wait to stain this one with olive oil and tomato sauce.

The fellow who bought the place is an Italian, too. He plans to make some changes, including the name, but keep the old Italian deli going strong in the neighborhood. I'm sure it will be nice, especially for those of us who would rather not buy our proscuitto at the supermarket, but it won't be Sessa's.

Buona fortuna, Signor Sessa. Enjoy the rest, you've earned it.

18 September 2014

Get Ready

I heard that the Farmer's Almanac has predicted an unusually cold winter this year. Not that I neccesarily put much stock in the Farmer's Almanac, butI say bring it on. I've been preparing, and I'm ready. Are you?

Currently in the closet are some old friends and some recent off season acquisitions. Left to right: Vintage Southwick heavy wool twill in hunter green; vintage wool tartan jacket (great for Bobby Burns parties); Paul Stuart brown glen check with gold and burgundy overcheck; old custom cashmere large scale glen check with blue overcheck; Andover Shop Russell plaid heavy tweed; Brooks Brothers gun club check with open patch pockets; Andover Shop moss green tweed with orange, red, blue, and lavender check; Andover Shop brown tweed with burgundy overcheck; Norman Hilton brown color fleck herringbone; three piece cavalry twill suit. All acquired through thrift shops, ebay, or trade. 

Not bad for a broke cheapskate. Persistence pays off.

p.s. Looks like we have temps pushing 80 on the way this weekend. Good thing I kept the khakis and hopsack blazer in rotation.

08 September 2014

Sunday Best

Recently good friend James of 10 Engines gave me this suit, straight out of his own closet, to do with what I could. It's the very definition of a stalwart classic, a charcoal grey single breasted suit in a three season worsted wool. It's been said that a man's suit is like armor, and this one bears that point out.
At first glance, it's a trad/ivy/preppy thrift shop/ebay score dream: a vintage 3/2 sack suit from the Brooks Brothers University Shop, likely late 1950s vintage. It's the kind of thing the trad/ivy fanatics dream of at night. But I won't be selling it. It's well worn, and in it's wear and tear lies a story and a soul.
The tips of the cuffs are worn through, and a few of the buttons are broken...
The trouser hems are frayed beyond repair, but check that old style big cuff on a narrow leg opening...
The edges of the trouser pockets have been beaten so hard in sixty or more years of active service that someone saw fit to have them reinforced with a grosgrain strip...
And a crotch worn straight through was at some time seen merely as a call for some old time thrifty repair rather than a ticket to the trash pile.

While this suits condition may render it useless to almost anyone, it has value in it's own way. Indeed, it's value lies in the very defects and repairs that make it an unsalable vintage piece. This suit speaks to a reality in the past that vintage fetishism tends to ignore, and it hints at a story that's worth bearing in mind, especially if you spend any amount of time hunting for and reusing old things.

In the strange world that is the online #menswear community, we tend to think of the Brooks Brothers of bygone days as something of a holy cathedral. It is viewed, along with a small handful of other old purveyors, as something of the supplier or royal armor to the knights of the #ocbd. And indeed, in most ways, it was. But there is another side to that story, and this suit is a strong piece of evidence.

What follows is all pure conjecture on my part, but I beg you hear me out. I think that the man who owned this suit didn't have a lot of good clothes, or a lot of money, but he did have values. He probably scrimped and saved in the late fifties to buy this suit, knowing that quality was worth the time and effort it took to earn it. He likely purchased this simple charcoal grey suit on virtue of it's versatility, usefulness, and probable longevity. It was probably his Sunday Best, and he probably wore it to every important occasion of his life for decades. He might have been eighteen when he bought it; he danced in it with his sweetheart at the Spring semi-formal; he wore it to his high school graduation; every holiday, every Sunday at church. He put it on for his grandmother's birthday that time they surprised her with a trip to the city for dinner in a fancy restaurant; he put it on to pick his wife up from the hospital after his son was born; he wore it to both of his parents funerals.

He wasn't a business man, definitely not a man who wore a suit all the time. Had he been that type, we wouldn't see either the wear or repair that we see on this suit. He appreciated the value in it since it's original purchase, and had it repaired as best he could every time it was needed by a little town tailor who was resourceful in his work. Despite the suit becoming increasingly ragged, he kept it clean and pressed, and every time he had occasion to wear it, that same sweetheart he danced with in the Spring semi-formal told him how handsome he looked in it.

Maybe that's all a bit maudlin, but I hope you see my point. In the romantic past, when everyone wore suits, even poor guys had to have some Sunday Best. In a very strong sense, I'd bet the guy who owned this suit valued it far more than any guy with a lot of suits values his clothes. It was his armor, his good clothes, and though it may have been a bit ragged, it wasn't any less of a grey Brooks Brother suit. Old clothes sourced from a thrift store are great for being well made quality things had for a fraction of their worth. But they also have a story and a soul. For some that's a turn-off, but for an inveterate cheapskate like myself, it's where the beauty in this lies.

06 September 2014

Size Matters

As the author of this blog and a seller of second hand menswear, I am frequently asked questions regarding the measurement and sizing of old garments. In the age of the internet, more clothing than ever is bought and sold sight unseen via places like ebay and online shops like my own. In the interest of a "Reader Questions" style post, here's a guide and explanation of how sizing works and how to use measurements to successfully shop for old clothes.

Most modern clothes are sized on a tag. These measurements can be anything as vague as "alpha sizing" (S,M,L,XL) or as specific as tailored sizing (42 Reg., for example). While helpful, these sizes are best used as a guide rather than a rigid fact. In truth, there is fluidity in such sizes, and different manufacturers or brands often use the same numbers on clothes which are not physically the same size. Add to that the fact that many older and vintage clothes are either missing these tags or were never sized that way in the first place, and things can get pretty confusing. While it's helpful to know about what "size" you are, it is infinitely more helpful to know your measurements, or even just the measurements of an article of clothing that fits well. The numbers on a measuring tape are marked out in inches (or centimeters if you live anywhere but here), and there is no arguing with them.

Most suit jackets and sport coats are sized by chest measurement and length. For example, I generally wear a 42 Regular. The number (42) refers to the circumference of the chest, in this case 42 inches, while "Regular" refers to the length of the jacket measured down the back. Generally speaking, there are five measurements to know on a tailored jacket. The chest can measured by laying a jacket flat and measuring from armpit to armpit, or "pit to pit" as you'll often read in online listing, then doubling. Bear in mind that is a differential to be considered, and few extra inches need to be left for freedom of movement. The jackets I have that I consider 42 chest measure between 22 and 23 inches across, or between 44-45 inches around. Shoulders are measured across the back from point to point. This can vary between makers and styles, but it can't be altered, so know what fits.A little variance is ok here. For example, I can wear anything from 18-19 inches in the shoulder. Length is usually listed as Short, Regular, and Long. While there is no hard rule about these lengths, I generally consider a "regular" to be about 31 inches from the bottom of the collar to the hem of the coat, short to be about 30, and long to be about 32. Again, the terms are subjective, but the numbers are not. Sleeve length is measured from shoulder to cuff, and sometimes a waist measurement will be given by measuring across the closed buttoning  point. These can be helpful, but remember too that sleeve length and side seams are easily altered. A good seller will list how much cloth there is to accommodate these alterations, or at least be able to tell you should you ask.

Trousers are easier, with the most important measurement of course being at the waist. This is measured much the same way as the chest of a jacket, across the waistband, doubled, with room to move. For example, what I would consider a 36 waist would actually measure about 37 inches. Length is measured from the crotch to the hem down the seam. This is easily alterable in most cases and a good seller will tell how much extra cloth there is to make adjustments. If you're looking for trim or fuller cut trousers, it's helpful to know the leg opening and thigh measurement. A leg opening between 9 and 10 inches is fairly classic, with 8 inches being trim. 13-14 inches at the thigh is classic, less would be considered trim cut. If you like a trimmer look, trousers can often be tapered in a bit, but you'll need a good tailor, not just the local dry cleaner. Remember that honesty with oneself is important. You may like to say you wear a 34 waist when you really need 36. Vanity is a funny thing. It should motivate you to wear clothes that look good rather than squeeze into uncomfortable clothing that's too tight.

These things are not only helpful in the world of online shopping, but also in the physical realm. Take a measuring tape with you to the thrift store and ignore tagged sizing. If you see something you like, measure it and see how close it comes to the measurements taken from a well fitting garment you already have. With experience, you'll begin to see the relativity in tagged sizing. I personally own and wear trousers sized from 34 to 38 inches, and jackets ranging from 40 to 44 in tagged sizes, and yet they all fit. Know measurements, not your "sizes".

p.s. A Note on Blog Posts

You may have noticed that posting here has become less frequent, lately only happening once a week, usually on Saturday. As some of you may know, I have taken a writing job with the style blog at ehow.com. This job, paired with the running of both my online and brick and mortar shop, has made it difficult to keep posting here as frequently as I would like. Going forward, I will be working out a more regular posting schedule for the blog, likely twice a week. Until then keep checking in and bear with me. I truly appreciate your readership and will continue to offer the kind of content you've come to expect. Thank you.