30 March 2011

Dressing For Two Seasons at Once

A gentleman dresses for the weather at hand, not the weather he wants, even if it means dressing for two seasons at once, as it so often does this time of year in New England.
Pink and green, laid back in the stripes, lets you know that I enjoy Spring, and am very glad it's begun to rear it's pretty head around here. Grey tweed lets you know I'm not foolish enough to pretend it isn't still mostly kind of chilly.

Starched khakis and pale blue tube socks harken to the sun. Penny loafers are ubiquitous.

On my head, a wool cap in Black Watch by Pendleton, and in my tote bag a merino wool scarf by Brooks Brothers and a pair of brown leather gloves wait for later, because after dark, it's gonna be cold.

Few things are as silly as ignoring the weather when you dress. Once, we had four seasons: a hot one, a cold one, and two vague ones. But the fashion industry has not only rendered the vague ones obsolete, they've even got us buying bathing suits in January and overcoates in August. The result is a bunch of young people wearing flip flops and shorts on a night that barely reached 40 Farenheit, and fur collared parkas on a balmy 60 degree day in October.

Remember, it is in fact possible to be both seasonal and weather appropriate in your dress. All you have to do is think about it for a minute or two before you choose the days attire.

p.s. Shop News
I missed getting new stuff in the Shop last week due to my jaunt to New York. This week, we've got plenty of the right products for "in between" times such as these. Also, the new "On Sale" page currently features some choice tweed and outerwear. Time to make room for the warm weather goods. Call it Spring Cleaning.

29 March 2011

Pink Hallucinations

I can remember watching these old Pink Panther cartoons as a kid, early on Saturday morning. Episode 2, "Pink Pajamas" from 1964 is a real winner, though what strikes me is how much it appeals to my adult sensibilities

The Flop House that denies him admission...the charming and spot on animation of the drunken fellow...the "Demon Rum" book...the 1960s minimalism of the drawing, like a jazz record, only it's a cartoon.

There's a lot to get a kick out of here, though none of it is fit for children. Still, I do remember having a laugh at it at the age of eight at 6 a.m. on a Saturday, even if I didn't know what I was laughing at. Maybe they put it on that early for the drunken grownups who were only just getting home.

p.s. a secret.

26 March 2011

J. Press Warehouse Sale Report

Back from New York, and with a full nights sleep under my belt, I now feel prepared to proffer my personal report on the J. Press warehouse sale.
Held on the 29th floor in a building on 7th Ave. that houses a myriad of clothing companies offices, in the heart of the old New York Garment District (not far from the giant needle and button)...

...in a plain white room that reminds me eerily of the corner of my basement where the Affordable Wardrobe Shop lives, only infinitely better lit, and about ten times as warm. Seen in the distance are Tin Tin (with his back to us) speaking with Sugi, the kindly young Japanese gent from Onward Retail who saw fit to extend and invitation to your humble author. (Thanks, Sugi. Much obliged)
Lots of shirts made by Troy Shirt Makers Guild. Alas, none in my size. This number here was particularly nice, white with blue pencil stripe and a white club collar, for less than $20. I have fond memories of Troy Shirt Makers. Ages ago, when the real Filene's Basement still existed, I sometimes found these shirts for throwaway prices, which enable me to own them at the tender age of 16. I can remember one in white herringbone with a spread collar and double cuffs was a particular favorite. Later, when I worked at Simon's Copley Square (R.I.P.), the boys would get all atwitter when we would get the chance to have Troy do up a run of shirts for us...the good old days.
Plaid of every kind abounded in this hot little room, much of it fit for Summer, but not all of it...
While it's true, this suit in oversized black/white/red plaid is fully ridiculous, it is also undeniably brilliant. Don't worry, I didn't bite. I really wanted too, but I didn't. I have a hard enough time justifying ownership of my navy blue and grey chalk stripe suits, let alone most of the rest of my wardrobe. Even I can exercise restraint when it comes to outlandish plaid suits. Still, I've been thinking about it ever since.

I also didn't bite on this blue and white batik masterpiece, but only because it was too big. Laugh all you want, I'd have killed you all in this thing with Nantucket reds and a white tennis shirt, you know it.

Glorious real tweed was certainly well represented too, as seen in this piece rendered in butter soft wool courtesy of Hanly of Ireland. Really, this sort of thing is why J. Press continues to matter, because even Brooks doesn't deliver the tweed like this anymore. Charlie does, but not Brooks.

Afterwards, we visited some fabric shops nearby, just to ogle, really. That there is all silk tie cloth. Seeing things like this really puts the provenance of one's clothing in sharp perspective. Do you want a skilled human to cut and sew this fine cloth for you, or a machine?

With warmer temperatures on my mind, this fine Italian cotton caught my eye. I'll have a pair of flat front chinos, with side tabs, slightly tapered legs, and two inch cuffs in each color, please.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. So, what about my haul? Thankfully, I didn't acquire much, but what I did nab was a select group of winners, not all of it clothes:

An excellent wool driving cap in vibrant plaid, $59, less 70%, $17.70.
Incredibly, "Made in USA" does still exist. Not so much at Brooks Brothers, but all over the place at J. Press.

And what do I need less that a third (you read me right) pair of patch madras pants? Pipe down, I was in a spendy mood. $105 less 70%, $31.50. A steal, if you ask me. Remember what I paid for Ralphie's?

This pair is built more like proper trousers, and fully lined in cotton gauze. Once again, homemade, by which I mean made at home.
The day before, Tin Tin took me to this crazy record and book store run by an old rock dude with long, frizzy grey hair, crammed willy-nilly into what was once an apartment on the West side.He was giving a hapless customer a dissertation on John Williams and the Boston Pops (of all things). A ten spot nabbed me a vinyl copy of  Out There by Eric Dolphy, a slab I've been after for years. Look for it in an installment of "The Jams" later this week.
As a parting gift, my gracious host sent me home with a copy of Flusser's near Biblical Clothes and the Man. Flipping through it on the bus ride home, I realized that it was from my Dad's copy of this book that I learned to tie a bow tie.

This particular copy is even dedicated to me, in 1988, when I was 12 years old.  Huzzah!

I may like to be a provincial Bostonian where the topic of New York City is concerned, but I'll admit that one of the nice things about Boston is the ability to soak up 24 hours of New York whenever you like. All in all, a successful jaunt.

23 March 2011

Gone Fishin'

Well, not really. I ain't much of an outdoorsman. I'll be headed to New York tomorrow to go fishing for some 90% off/$5 damaged goods/tales of New York at the J. Press warehouse sale. Tin Tin said he knows a guy coming in from Boston for the event...so do I.

Full report on Saturday.

21 March 2011

Perils of Thrifting

I guess things have been fairly rosy around here lately, and as such we haven't had an installment of the infrequent "perils" series in quite a while. This one's been in the can for over a year, I'm only just pulling the trigger now. It's the tale of The Worst Shirt I've Ever Owned.
The J.Crew "Vintage Oxford", size Medium. How can you go wrong with a white button down for a dollar? Well,  truth is you can go very far wrong. Allow me to explain.

I'm not about to embark on a rant against J. Crew in general, because I actually have no problem with a lot of their stuff. It's been well documented here that any given Spring at least half of the khakis I keep in rotation are from them, and I find them to be well made and pretty hard wearing. They can also be counted on as a source of good looking cotton socks in bright argyles and the like. I may not care for the dubious provenance, both in the Chinese factory and mall storefront, of most of their goods, but when you need basics like khakis and socks, and you're a cheapskate, you find that sometimes you have to pick your battles. So ends the disclaimer.

So what of the "Vintage Oxford"? Well, for one thing, calling a new thing vintage doesn't sit well with me, but that's just a matter of semantics. This shirt is a size Medium. I'm 5'10", I wear a 42 jacket and a 34 waist...you know, kind of the poster child for the average size Medium. But every aspect of this shirt is a bad fit on me. This shirt is a masterpiece of disproportion. The collar is too big, yet it's points are far too short. The placket is too narrow, the pocket too small. The sleeves are at least three inches too long, but you can't really roll them up, because they're cut too tight and the sleeve placket is only a couple of inches long. The damn thing is too short to stay tucked in, and the cloth is kind of spongy and weird feeling. Nothing good about it. Still, it was $1.00, and I figured I could at least use it as a "sweater shirt", when all I really needed was some open white collar showing, but even that didn't work. It constantly comes untucked, and the cuffs ride down and out of the sweater. Very bad, indeed. It's time for this beast to go, or at least get made into handkerchiefs.

A bad shirt like this touches on a couple of subjects, one of which is the problem of "alpha sizing", that is, S,M,L,XL. This system works fine for knitwear,tennis shirts, flat caps,and maybe even gloves. But a button front shirt is another matter. A man must have a neck and sleeve measurement in order for a shirt to look right. Some general cuts through the body will work well for a lot of guys, but an ill fitting neck or a sleeve too long or too short is irreconcilable. I'm not about to suggest, as some might, that any man who isn't a savage must have his shirts made, because for most men ready made shirts will work just fine. But stay away from alpha sized dress shirts, even for $1.00.

The other issue this addresses is the "problem" of  the very low prices one often encounters in thrift shops, the ultimate peril of thrifting in a way. No matter how cheap something is, Hell, even if its free, doesn't necessarily mean you need to take it. Junk is junk at any price, and the accumulation of a lot of it is the most common trap thrift shoppers fall into. Successful cheapskating requires a more discerning eye than usual, and it's a skill to be constantly developed. I've been working on it for years, but as you can see, we all slip sometimes. I paid $1.00 too much for this shirt. Can it be true that someone paid upwards of $50 for it once? Shocking. There's a long winded lesson  in values and relativity there too, I suppose, but we'll leave that for another time.

Avoid the J. Crew Vintage Oxford at all costs...unless you need a cloth to wax your car with, or something. Even then there are better options.

19 March 2011

The Jams: Forget Not the 1970s

In keeping with the theme of my last post, in which I begged respect for the 1970s in general, lets talk music for a moment.
Issac Hayes is kind of the quintessential Bad Mother...(shut your mouth!). He practically invented it. Actually, I suppose James Brown invented the concept, but Isaac certainly refined it, with Curtis Mayfield giving it the intellectual tweak. In any case, Isaac Hayes made a lot of great albums in the 70s. They were blatantly of their time, full of lush arrangements, over the top production, and dripping with sex appeal. Any of these albums are worth knowing, and are solidly dated in their era, but strong enough to stand the old test of time. Today, I played side two of "...To Be Continued" for the children. "Isaac's Rap" blends right into his version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", making for a dead solid 15 minutes of what I told my boy was a "dirty jam", and I meant it as an ultimate compliment. Wrap it up with "Runnin' out of fools", and you've got half an hour of filthy. Very distinctly 1970s, and very unstoppable. A good rap producer could make about 25 jams out of this record and maybe a Dionne Warwick album easily, if he's worth his salt. 
On the other end of the spectrum, we followed up with this:
I'll go ahead and pronounce Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti" as the definitve big rock record of it's time. Huge, aggressive, no apologies offered, it comes at you like a steam roller. Jams like "The Wanton Song" are the reason I begged for a drum set when I was 11, and went on to play the drums for twenty years. The cover, with the cut out windows and interchangeable inserts, is argument enough in my book for the supremacy of vinyl as a thing to own. The way this stuff sounds and feels by way of needle and wood is the closing argument.

Besides all this, the 70s were the last days of our revered concept of "old fashioned"ness. Dad still wore suit to work. Most of the stuff in your house was made in USA...and most of it is still around. And this was the popular music on the radio.It may have been a generally ugly decade, but it wasn't all bad.

Think it over before you write off ten years of history wholesale, or at least listen to Isaac Hayes and Led Zeppelin on vinyl sometime. Then we'll talk.

17 March 2011

House and Home: Hiding Under the Stairs

These days we have the "man cave", a garage or basement all set up for guy stuff. But what if you don't have a garage or basement to commandeer? What if you're idea of "guy stuff" doesn't involve tools and sports so much as liquor and jazz? You may have to resort to hiding under the stairs:
This little nook of unused space comes equipped with killer hi-fi equipment, record storage, a wall mounted phone and a bar complete with refrigeration and a sink, all encased in nice wood. I don't know about you, but I'd be under the stairs every night for hours in a nook like this.

Courtesy of Sir Terence Orby Conran's "The House Book"

First published in 1974, my copy is vintage 1982. Find it, study it. We tend to think of the 1970s as an ugly age, and mostly it was, but I'll be damned if there wasn't some murderous home design going on back then. I've had this book for years, but I still enjoy perusing it periodically. You will too.

p.s. an eclectic mix of new stuff has just hit "the shop", including vintage Brooks Brothers and J. Press, along with Italian police surplus, Allen Edmonds shoes, and old denim for the denim nerds. Check it.

15 March 2011

Playground Attire

On a bright sunny day, I've got two little kids who are just dying to spend some time getting dirty outside. What's a Daddy to wear?
An old Sero oxford shirt, frayed to death at the collar, with a Scottish wool v-neck and a Barracuda jacket I've been saving since I acquired it in the cold months.

Cords with ducks on, argyle socks, and L.L.Bean blucher moccs, for comfort.

A Donegal tweed cap from Ireland seals the deal. Comfortable, casual, rumpled, well worn, and even a pinch whimsical. Beats all Hell out of sweatpants and sneakers.

We spent the whole day out, the kids travelling in a red wagon and I pulling it. We picked up Mama's contacts at the eye doctors, went out to lunch, visited the Andover Shop, hit the secretest of all thrift shops, and spent a very long time in the playground, where Daddy himself played in the sand and assumed the role of "the shark" in some boat game a bunch of kids made up. Afterwards, we spent a few hours in the back yard, and when Mama came home, Daddy washed the dishes and made dinner. All while dressed like an adult...you know, differently from the children. Imagine that?

People who use the fact that they look after small children as an excuse to walk around dressed like children are being lazy. Adulthood, and especially parenthood, is no place for laziness. I'll try not to get on a high horse about it, but dressing like an adult teaches children a little something about being an adult. Spending the day in pyjamas and sweat pants teaches them something too.

14 March 2011

The Shell Game

It may seem like I know absolutely everything, but in fact I learn a lot writing this blog. It's one of the perks, and I'm glad to have expanded my advice pool to such an absurd degree.

In my last post, I claimed my new favorite shoes to be shell cordovan, and many of you cried foul, albeit in a concise and gentlemanly way. I thank you all for it, and respectfully take it on the chin. Truth be told, my knowledge of the earmarks of used shell cordovan come only from internet babble, with no hands on experience.
So, these shoes are really nice, and buttery soft, and well maintained, and they were cheap...but they ain't shell cordovan. The tiny creases are the give-away. Live and learn. However...
These shoes, an old pair of Florsheim Royal Imperials, purchased ages ago for $20, may well be shell cordovan. Apparently the "waves" rather than creases are the dead give away. These shoes were my old favorites, before the new tassels came into the picture. I'll be damned. And then...

...there's these. They have the waves, they take a soaking well, and I bought them the same day in the same store as the longwings, also $20. Are they shell cordovan? Maybe...who cares?

In the end, they're all nice shoes. The wings and pennies were old when I got them, have given me years of service, and show no signs of quitting. The tassels are old too, and have a long life ahead of them. In the long run, maybe it doesn't matter all that much. Three pair of classic and well made shoes for $48.95 is hard to argue with, no?

In future, I'll be more diligent in my homework assignments...promise.

p.s. I'm the kind of sucker who's dead sure he can beat this guy. That's why I don't gamble.

12 March 2011

Another Man's Cordovan

Hot on the heels (heh, heh) of the gourmet boot acquisition comes a little more shoe porn, this time in the form of tassel loafers, "Breather Wright's" by long gone E.T.Wright:

A perfect ruddy red/brown color, plays well with pale yellow socks and wide wale cords in "cinnamon". Softness, patina, lack of hard creases and obvious level of care by the previous owner lead me to believe these are shell cordovan. Beautiful.

I know, I've posited before that wear and tear, or in this case glorious patina, only counts if it's ones own, and I stick by it. But who can say no to shell cordovan at $8.99?

p.s....in the Shop:
We may all be looking forward to Spring, but it still gets chilly at night. I've got the tweed jackets and sweaters to keep you warm and stylish...for cheap. Check it out.

10 March 2011

Save the Date: Top Shelf Flea Market III

An Affordable Wardrobe
presents the third semi-annual
Top Shelf Flea Market
Sunday, 22 May, 2011

Top Shelf Flea Market III is coming! Many of our favorite vendors will be returning, plus some exciting new additions. Noon till six at the George Dilboy VFW, cash bar all day. Stay tuned for updates and details.

09 March 2011

One For The Urban Lumberjacks

It's well known I like to poke my fun at the phenomenon that is the "Urban Lumberjack", but I'll admit that even I am occassionally susceptible to the attractions of  gourmet American workwear. So long as I can avoid the gourmet price tag, of course.
My travels in the chaotic world of thrift shopping today found me in possession of these classic mocc-toed work boots. Made of brown chrome excel leather, sturdy, but stylish like a well made shoe.

Worn, but not much. The leather is soft, but heavy duty. The soles have a cork layer. They had no laces, but that's nothing that can't be remedied for a few dollars. I could tell they were nice, but I couldn't find a brand name on them. Then I realized that the previous owner had put heel inserts in them. As I pulled one out, I sruck thrift shop gold.

The coveted Alden "Indy" boot, complete with "foot balance system", in my size. $2.99. Best price I could find on the internet was $435 at ShoeMart in Connecticut. Can't wait to try 'em out with Wrangler's and a Barbour jacket...and not cut down any trees. Maybe I'll wear them camping some time...maybe.

07 March 2011

Worth Every Penny: Bialetti Stainless Steel Espresso Pot

I'm picky about my coffee. It is a required luxury every morning, and so must be enjoyable, and of course, prepared to my own exacting (and not surprisingly pain-in-the-*ss) specifications. Only coffee prepared in an Italian style stove top espresso pot will do. My old one had a worn gasket, causing half the water to leak out at the seam, and the resulting coffee to be incredibly bitter and sludgy. Besides that, it was aluminum, and keeping up with the corrosion inside the water reservoir was a loosing battle. So, feeling flush from recent successes in the Affordable Wardrobe Shop (thank you, customers) I decided an upgrade was in order:
Still a Bialetti like my last one, but this time a four cup model in stainless steel from the "Elegance" line. It's a got a sexier look than the old octagonal number. Better still, the coffee it produces is rich and strong, but with a texture like silk. Worth every bit of $45. It's true, I overpaid. But I bought it at my local Italian shop, where I am officially the oldest customer. 31 years ago, my Nonna brought me in there at the age of 2 1/2, just a few days after they opened, and I still shop there. If you can't understand why I'd gladly pay extra to keep my money in a place like that, I'll never be able to explain it to you. 
Lately, I tend to stick with Cafe Pilon, two bucks a brick at the supermarket, but this pot may require a permanent switch to my old favorite, Lavazza Crema e Gusto. $6.99 per 8.8 oz. brick at the same store. Perhaps a little dear, but it takes more than a week to use this up. I know a lot of people who spend that much on coffee in a day.
While the coffee is brewing, I gently warm some milk in this little pitcher, being careful not to burn it. When the milk is good and warm, I add two teaspoons of sugar and stir to dissolve. The entire coffee pot fills a standard mug 2/3 full, which I top off with the warm sweetened milk. Perfect.

A hell of a lot of trouble to go to for one cup of coffee, but remember that coffee is as much about ritual as it is about the drink itself. Making it just how you like it at home, no matter how complicated, is indeed worth every penny.

05 March 2011


Consider all the tiny city/states that Europe was once comprised of...a vast array of tiny nations, with distinct cultures and myriad variations of language. There's something incredible in the fact that despite current boundaries and governments, places like Flanders, Alsace, Walonia, the Basque country and Tyrol still exist..sort of. I'm glad of it, because I can relate to whatever it is that makes people continue to preserve a heritage that the rest of the world tries hard to erase. Maybe that's what draws me to this hat:
Recently purchased from Orvis, made in Germany, it's a style of hat native to the Alps, popular in Tyrol. Tyrol is cool, being kind of Italian, kind of Austrian, and kind of neither. They drink beer, but they also drink Italian style red wine. They eat Speck, which is like prosciutto, only smoked, and Bresaola, beef seasoned with salt, bay leaf and juniper berries, then air-cured...both delicious if you can find them. They even manage to preserve a particularly Tyrolean language known as Ladino, an amazing feat in modern times. And they wear these hats, which are just plain cool, if you're so inclined to attempt to pull it off. I dig it, and I'm going to go ahead and use my Northern Italian heritage as an excuse to wear what a friend dubbed my "Pinocchio hat".
The final touch is achieved with this vintage Austrian hat pin, the generous gift of none other than Charlie Davidson of the Andover Shop. Back in the early sixties, when the Harvard Square Oktoberfest actually saw men in liederhosen dining on knock wurst and sauerkraut and girls dressed as serving wenches serving Wurzburger and Paulaner in lidded steins, he used to sell these.  If you need further convincing to purchase one of these hats, Charlie has consigned his entire collection of vintage hat pins with An Affordable Wardrobe , soon to be available in the shop. How can you resist?
If you think it will be difficult to actually go out and about in the USA wearing such a thing, not being an old Alpine gent with a formidable moustache, I completely understand. But consider how well it works with a Brooks Brothers shirts and repp tie from long gone men's clothiers Judd of Swampscott, Massachusetts, both quintessentially American, a Scottish Shetland sweater, and an English Barbour jacket, punctuated with an Italian Tri-Color enamel pin. If we consider the Chinese provenance of my socks and belt, then I've successfully spanned the globe with this one.

03 March 2011

All In The Details

A grey herringbone jacket, charcoal flannels and black knit tie is a combination that requires little thought, it will always work on any man, given that it is weather appropriate. But much like the combo of navy blazer, striped tie and grey flannels discussed here recently, the danger of drabness looms large. Once again, the difference is all in the details. Sit tight, this post will discuss quite a few.
An old skirt pin is used here as a tie clip, a fun and cool touch on a knit tie, if used sparingly.

The pin is thick, but won't damage a loose knit. I pierce the front of the tie, run the point through one of the shirts button holes (at a rakish tilt, of course) the back out through the tie.

Brown buttons (not black) in braided leather are an essential component in the character of a grey tweed jacket. Black would be drab, brown is just this side of unexpected.

The throat latch and rust colored square are small touches, but they go a long way. You don't necessarily need splashy colors to make a statement, if you remember that the strongest statements are made quietly.

Brown leather accessories (not black) pick up the thread. Double forward pleats, my new favorite tailoring detail, add interest to the most classic trousers, once again quietly.

Brown shoes and light grey socks carry things right down to the floor.

The duffel coat over a jacket and tie may be a bit unexpected, but the neutral shade of tan make it a slam dunk. Besides, it was cold today, and I've never had a warmer coat. The hood is a plus, keeping my ears warm at night without having to resort to ear muffs or a sock hat. Taken from a few feet back, the overall look is an understated study in the blending of neutrals, grey, tan, black and brown, with a whiff of blue in the university stripes of the shirt.

Though my first inclination was for my favorite crazy patch scarf, this plain one in charcoal merino wool is best. Despite what you may think, I do know when not to push it. Vintage brown tortoise shell Ray-Bans, brown leather gloves, an a brown corduroy cap emblazoned with pheasants all lend a hand. The red in the coat lining seals the deal.

The tie came new from Lands End, on a gift certificate. The socks came from the Gap, years ago. The rest is thrift shop gold.

A guy should know how (and when) to keep it classic. He should also know that this is by no means prohibitive of his personality or flair for style. Dress yourself in grey and brown, but shine right through. It's all in the details.

02 March 2011

Get Into The Fray

Call it "Yankee thrift", call it "old world", call it "cheapness", call it what you want. I firmly believe that many things get better with age, and that visible wear and tear is far from a good reason to part with a perfectly serviceable and favorite piece of clothing.
These old khaki's ('essential chinos' by J.Crew, $5.49) are far and away my favorite pair. Worn to death, they're fraying...

...at both hems...
there's even a hole on the butt caused by my wallet. Toss'em? Nonsense! I prefer to deal with this by trimming off the stray threads, starching them and then ironing a tight crease into them like never before. After all..

There's no reason they can't still play well with a blazer, oxford and repp tie, is there? Worn clothing worn dressy might just be (dare I say it) "American Sprezzatura". I know, I hate that newly coined (by me) phrase as much as you do. No I don't, I love it.

A little wear and tear gives the right clothes some extra character, like the wrinkles on a kind face. Consider that before you throw something away. Just make sure the wear and tear is your own. "Pre-distressed" clothing is for suckers and chumps.

Get into the fray.

p.s. The Italian jackets are sold. Next time I drop such a hint, email me, like our lucky winner did.