31 October 2011

Gettin' Bloody in the Morning

Given the fact that it is Halloween, I thought something a bit harsh with the potential for some gore might be in order. Recently, I've been shaving with this rig:
Years ago, I started using brush and soap from a mug instead of the modern aerosol shaving cream I'd been using. Truthfully, I did this because it was cool and old fashioned, but the benefits to my skin quickly became evident and I soon preferred it because it was simply better.

A few years on, I switched from a disposable cartridge razor to an old fashioned safety razor. I cut myself a bunch in the beginning, but once I developed a "hand" for this, I preferred it because it was simple better. Besides being, contrary to popular belief, easier on the skin and yielding a smoother, closer shave, the act of shaving itself became a cathartic ten minute ritual, a moment of time each  morning to slow down and focus on oneself, before a day of tending to the needs of others.

This past week, I started using a straight razor. The good folks at Heritage Shaving sent me one of their starter kits to try, which included a German made blade, stainless steel mug, badger brush, leather strop and a tube of Dr. Bronner's shave soap. It's a trip, and more than a little scary first time out. But if you can make it out of the bathroom alive that first time, it's a thing worth learning. And you will have to learn, because it requires a set of skills you don't have yet. I did a fair amount of research online before putting blade to skin for the first time, and I suggest you do the same. My best advice is don't be too scared. It's actually not as bad as you think, and confidence will make a big difference in whether and how badly you cut yourself. I made it to my fourth shave without a nick, but when I did draw blood, it was a bit of a doozy. Still, I can dig it.

As for the Dr. Bronner's soap, it's not so much my Jam. I still prefer the old fashioned cake of soap in the mug. Mrs.G likes it, though, so consider giving this to the lady if you don't prefer it.

As for straight blade shaving in general, I'm a fan, and if you've got the stuff, I suggest you give it a try. I won't say that this will be the only way I'll ever shave again. It's time consuming, and with two small kids in the house, I don't always have that time. But a combo of safety razor quickies, and straight razor "me time" is just the ticket.

With that, AAW welcomes Heritage Shaving as it's first sponsor. A small company run by a guy in the Midwest trying to defray the cost of grad school, the kind of company I'm happy to give my money to (even if they did send me stuff for free, but still...you get the idea). If you've ever thought it would be wise to put a surgically sharp blade to your throat first thing in the morning, I suggest you buy your supplies from them.

*a note on sponsorship: An Affordable Wardrobe is now accepting advertising. However, this does not mean I am now in the habit of "shilling" or running "advertorial" content. If you have a quality product to sell that is in keeping with the spirit of this blog, I am happy to run your ad for a nominal fee. In a real sense, buying an ad here buys an endorsement, because I won't sell you the ad if your product is junk. There's no time for that.  If I do write about a product, as I have done just now, it is because I wanted to and will continue to give my honest opinion. That ought to get the p.r. firms to beat down my door.

29 October 2011

Tie Tied, Shirt Tucked In, Buttons Buttoned

If your going to dress well, don't cop out by "casualizing" everything about it. If you wear a tie, close your collar and push it up; if you wear a proper shirt, tuck it in; if you wear a jacket, button it. After all, if something like this:

...can be done with all the finer points of neatness in place, what's your excuse for half stepping? And who says that wearing a suit is stiff and restrictive? Someone without style, no doubt.

27 October 2011

AAW Live on Stage

A.R. Gurney's play Children, concerning the decline of the American W.A.S.P. aristocracy and based loosely on a story by Ivy/Trad/Preppy (blech, I hate those terms) guru John Cheever, is running at the Beckett Theatre, part of New York City's "Theatre Row".  A series of panel discussions focusing on various topics touched on in the play is planned, in which yours truly will be a humble participant. I'll be discussing "preppy fashion" and what that means with Ann Weiser after the show on Friday, 4 November.

Come see a ressurected play worth seeing, and if you're lucky I might say something memorable. I may be proficient at writing for the internet, though my public speaking skills are admittedly rusty at best. No rotten tomatoes, please.

26 October 2011

You Are Not a Mannequin

Inspired by the success of some little outfit called Polo Ralph Lauren, my man Bill wore this to the recent Top Shelf Flea IV:

55% wool/ 45% cotton Viyella shirt, J. Press tie, Andover Shop collar pin, Andover Shop tweed, vintage 1970s corduroy vest.  Polo Ralph has a particular knack for selling things, and I'm not the least ashamed to admit to stealing from him. At least I stayed away from the immensely affected pinned button down collar. Bill can wear it, you (or I) probably can't.

I have been considering the possibility of having a few shirts made in big tartan plaid with spread collars and French cuffs. Given my rube tendencies in custom shirts, this should come as no surprise. It will be either murder, or suicide, sartorially speaking. The jury's still out, and your opinions are welcome. Likely the more sensible among you will advise me against it. Also likely I get one in Dress Gordon for the holidays. We'll see.

p.s the Shop is brimming with new stock. Check it.

25 October 2011

Top Shelf IV in the Bag.

It is my pleasure to announce that the fourth semi-annual Top Shelf Flea Market was a great time and a great success. Consensus is, among vendors and patrons alike, that a good time was had by all. To say I feel gratified by the level of response we received is an understatement. "Humbled" is closer to the truth. As usual, I was far too busy to take many usable photos. The following will have to suffice.

A constant flow of people, at every booth. A friendly and enthusiastic crowd to boot.
Bobby from Boston as usual gives a lesson in how it's done.  "We wanted a little more of a Motown 60s vibe with this years booth." Says owner Bobby Garnett. Note the white shoes and Chelsea boots. There was also an entire size run of deadstock permanent press stove pipe slacks with top pockets. A bit on the trim side for me, but perfect for the 24 year old set, who happened to be there in droves. In fact, one of the more gratifying aspects of the event was the sheer number of eager young people interested in all this old fuddy duddy stuff. Hope yet for the future, I guess.

Plastic Fantastic housewares to match your new stove pipe pants over at Nimco;s booth...

Loads of vintage bow ties at Newton Street Vintage....

I'm going to ask the Dilboy Post to install a working fireplace, to complete the erudite feel of James' booth. Not taking things too seriously, his Swamp Rabbit Books t-shirts bearing the famous John Waters quote "if you go home with someone and they don't have books, don't f*ck them" provided  a dose of levity.

Kid Brother give a mean shoe shine. My old tassels never looked better...

Drappier Carte d'Or Champagne is a big pinot noir driven blend with a voluptuous texture, and heady scent redolent of yeast. Creamy and delicate all at once, it provided the perfect accompaniment to an order of take out sushi that was perhaps a bit too large. Thank you customers for helping me afford it....
...as well as this crazy heap that sits in my back yard awaiting insurance and inspection. I'm already calling it the Waspmobile. It's perfect for me: something made for old money New Englanders that is already old and a little broken when I got it. A perfect match to most of my clothes...

I might even leave the un-earned Brown decal on it, just for fashion. It's almost like buying a car at the Rugby store. I am by no means a car guy, and I'm not that into driving, but cramming a shops worth of stuff into a sedan is getting old, quick. Thanks for helping me with that, too.

As always, credit for the success of this event lies mainly with the vendors and visitors. I may work hard to pull this thing together, but it wouldn't mean a thing without the rest of you. Thanks.

p.s. the online Shop will be up and running again by the end of the week. Tons of new goodies on the way.

22 October 2011

Going to Market

The time is upon us. A few notes to readers and friends before we pack this show up and bring it to market.

My thanks and apologies to Top Shelf Vendors who did not receive individual write ups here on the blog. I love you all, but unfortunately one man can only do so much. If you're reading this and planning on coming, be sure and check out every table, as they're all good.

An Affordable Wardrobe online shop will be closed for business now until Tuesday, 25 October, in order to avoid any double selling. When we re-open, we'll be featuring new items for Fall/Winter. Call it the unveiling of AAW F/W 2011.

Special thanks to The Trad, Put This On, and anyone else who may have voluntarily plugged this thing online. Much obliged.

Come early, stay late, see you at noon.

19 October 2011

Tweed & Flannel

Wool, cashmere or some of each. Herringbone, glen checks, tartans, and more. A few choice bits of vintage bullet proof Harris Tweed. In a wide variety of sizes.
All available Sunday at the Flea. If you live out of town, don't worry. Remaining goods, as well as plenty of Fall/Winter items being held for the shop will be available online early next week.

Polo Teddy, in a vintage bow tie and Brooks Brothers detachable wing collar, will not be for sale, at any price, but he will be in attendance to sign autographs.

18 October 2011

Cycling Attire

I'm what the kids call "Old School". I wish, that in late October, it might be chilly outside, so I can wear my cold weather clothes, which are so much more my jam that the Summer stuff. But since it ain't, I decided to get the bikes back on the road, most notably Ye Olde Fixed Gear. Formerly my primary mode of transport, I'm thrilled to have her back as occasional company. However, now that tight pants and t-shirts are no longer quite "it", what to wear?

-Vintage athletic gear, of course. Tattered old khakis, rolled high, with a simple navy t-shirt, soft brown leather belt, orange socks and Converse...all elevated by the vintage 1960s navy Varsity cardigan with white stripes (and wooden buttons), best $1 I ever spent. A helmet, of course, is de rigeur.

p.s. a store bought "fixie" is lame to no end...a home made conversion is the Jam.

p.p.s. lugged steel frame

p.p.p.s. notice how this post had nothing to do with the Flea?....I fooled you...I fooled you....( I got all....livestock....)

16 October 2011

Turn It Up, Then Take It Down a Notch

For many men, dressing well is a matter of turning it up. It certainly is for me. In nearly every given situation I can think of, I'm likely to be dressed in a way that is turned up five notches from the average level. I wear a coat and tie to my job, where the accepted dress code is jeans. I dress the same way for trips into the city. I prefer shoes to sneakers, and when I do wear those they're of the understated cloth variety. While I do wear jeans or shorts at the playground, I see to it that they are clean and crisp, and I always wear a shirt with a collar. This isn't meant to be bragging, far from it. Indeed, if anything, this assures that I will be the weird guy sticking out like a sore thumb nearly everywhere I go. And yet, for all this, I rarely get to wear a suit.
I did find an excuse to don one recently, at a big public event at my job. The memo to staff that went out a few days before specified "business casual" for the floor staff. Since my day to day dress is in fact what might be considered business casual in the first place, and since the idea was to get everyone a little gussied up for the occasion, I decided to turn it up one and opted for the full navy suit (J.Press, $7.99).  When wearing a suit for something other than office business, especially a navy one, it helps to turn things down a bit in the appointments, softening the look of the suit and taking some of the stuffiness out of it. Few things shout "board meeting" like a navy suit with black shoes, a white shirt and a simple burgundy tie. Avoid the white shirt and black leather, and the whole mood can change.
In this case, I opted for a shirt in blue and black mini tattersall check with button down collar by Brooks Brothers ($5.49).  I did stick with the understated burgundy tie, but opted for wool over silk (Fitzgerald's of Grand Rapids, $1.99). Much like the check pattern and button down collar of the shirt, the soft, matte wool tie helps keep things leaning toward casual, imminently appropriate for an afternoon event. The pocket square in rich paisley rather than crisp white follows suit.
Brown shoes instead of black, loafers instead of lace ups. Two rules violated, but this also follows the theme of the business suit in the non business setting. Popping socks would have been too much here, so simple navy is the best bet.

Wearing a brown hat with a navy suit may in fact be grounds for termination, but I can dig it. Besides, it's all I can do not to wear this hat in the shower since I had it refurbished, and you have been asking for an "action shot". Pay no attention to that heap of clothes on the chair in the background. I do run a clothing store out of my house, you know, and things have a way of encroaching on the living space. Ask Mrs. G.

Collar pin as tie pin is a nice trick on a wool tie. Don't try this on silk as the holes will never come out. But on wool, they'll close up, maybe with a nudge from a little steam. This little detail was likely one step too far, it's true, but I can only suppress my naturally garish inclinations so much in one ensemble.

If you've got a navy blue suit sitting in the closet that was worn to some interview long ago, and you don't have a "suit job", and nobodies dying or getting married anytime soon, dust it off and try it out with some softer, more well worn accoutrements, just because you can. You may find in that navy suit a new old friend you never knew you had.

14 October 2011


That is the preferred method of abbreviating a collaborative effort these days, isn't it?  Anyway, I am honored to be one of the select advance recipients of this Put This On by Cordial Churchman bow tie.
Plays quite well with a Brooks Brothers pink oxford ($5.49) and a jacket in soft brown tweed by the Andover Shop ( $11.99. Pricey by my usual standards, but still a bargain). Thank you both Jesse and Ellie. I will wear it proudly.

Speaking of the Cordial Churchman, I'm pleased to announce that I will once again be carrying a line of Ellie's fine bow ties, as well as a few scarves and ascots, at the upcoming Top Shelf Flea Market.

p.s. Kid Brother will be back with his shoe shine kit. Wear the most scuffed up pair you have.

13 October 2011

Top Shelf Vendor : Vintage Haven

Back once more after an absence last time, the Top Shelf Flea is proud to welcome Debbie Gannon of Vintage Haven back into the fold. Ladies, come get your Brand New Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat.
Last time Deb was here, I marveled at the tiny 8x8 shop she managed to construct in less than an hour prior to opening. Really, her booth was like a tiny store, attended by a friendly, knowledgeable and passionate shop-keep. And best of all, there was a little bit of everything. Something for the guys, something for the girls. I'm still kicking myself for not buying the vintage wool Red Sox pennant she had last time.

This time out, she'll be featuring plenty of LBDs (little black dresses) for all those holiday parties, skirts, blouses, coats and lingerie (ooh, la la!)

For the boys, shirts, ties, hats, and Victorian collars and cuffs...for the Steam Punks.

New in her booth will be a selection of vintage housewares, including but not limited to some great vintage cocktail glassware sets,  lamps, quilts,  table cloths and Pyrex.

"...it balances on your head just like a mattress on a bottle of wine....your Brand New Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat...."

12 October 2011

An Affordable Wardrobe for Esquire.com

Friend, neighbor and Top Shelf Flea Market lieutenant James of 10Engines and I have a very nerdy, high school debate team style parlay over the appropriatenes of Western clothing on men other than ranch hands and rodeo riders in  Blogger Showdown at Esquire.com.
It was a pleasure, and I had a great time. My only regret is not bringing ZZ Top circa 1974 into the discussion.

11 October 2011

Restraint is a Virtue (But We All Slip Sometimes)

A long time ago, in the very earliest stages of this blog, the fellow once known to us all as Longwing had this to say:

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

I agreed with him then and still do, and responded with my 7th post ( this one will be #561). Still we slip sometimes, and a well loved if useless item comes to stay in our closets. But eventually, we must say goodbye.

This old gun club check jacket is a thing of beauty, made by hand in 1960 , by the tailoring firm Davies and Sons in London.

a piece of cloth so beautiful, almost anachronistic in its level of quality. The couple of tiny moth holes in it never bothered me much, gave it some character. I see a lot of nice things in my various sartorial hunting trips, but few as well woven as this. I really enjoyed wearing this jacket, but...

photo from another old post
...it never really fit right, and I guess I always knew it. Some of you even told me so, but I didn't listen. The coat is too nice, and I wanted it for my own. But with my own closets strained now to the bursting point, it's time to let this bird go. After all, the days of me and size 40 regular aren't even in the rear view anymore, I've driven so far past them. So it is with no small amount of sadness that I put this one up in the Shop. I thought about saving it for the Flea, but this way there's a slim chance it goes back to England, where it rightly belongs.

In any case, I beg one of you to give it a good home, and wear it well.  I apologize for the underlying commercialism of this post, but a special piece deserves a special send off.

p.s. other new items available in the Shop as well.

10 October 2011

Top Shelf Vendor : Newton Street Vintage

Zach of Newton Street Vintage is another stalwart of the Top Shelf Flea Market. In some sense it may be bad for business on my end to have him around. He gives me a real run for my money in the classic menswear department. But he's friendly and enthusiastic, and his stuff is good.
An eye for the perfect combination of tradition and luxury is a strong point of his...

...as evidenced in these two stacks of shirts: On the left, big plaids for the lumberjack in you, some in thick flannel, some in soft Viyella. On the right, a fine stock of traditional dress shirts.
Throw down a gauntlet, and someone is bound to pick it up. Recently, Zach took my pair of Tartan sets to be such a gauntlet, and he counters with these (among others):
A 3/2 sack in Black Watch camel hair from Brooks Brothers...
...and this killing number, unstructured and slouchy, and rendered in old Viyella. If that thing is a size 42, I'm nabbing it myself.

For more info on Zach and Newton Street Vintage, as well as a small sampling of his collection of stunning tweeds, read Zach's recent post over at the Top Shelf Flea blog.

Come early and stay late. If you love classic clothing, but your budget is meager, and you live in a modern world so lacking in stylish options for the average man, this Fall's TSFM will be like making up for lost time.

See you there.

09 October 2011

Worth Every Penny : Hat Refurbishment at Salmagundi Hat Shop

I continue to live by my self coined addage that the best new things are old things, particularly if those old things are things you already own. Being thrifty doesn't only mean buying the best things you can for the cheapest prices. The term applies just as well to repair and refurbishment of well made things of value. This can be a bit costly, but there are times when it's worth every penny.

You may remember my trusty, crusty, well worn and well loved old brown hat (mentioned previously here) :
An old Dobbs fedora, from a long gone store called Boyd's of Philadelphia, likely 1950s vintage. The hat is upwards of sixty years old, and I've owned it for about ten. Originally worn with a tattered vintage army coat and tight, dark jeans in my own version of some sort of punk-rockabilly get-up, this hat has been through a lot with me. Lord knows where it was before. It's been cloaked in cigarette smoke, soaked in booze, sweated through, rained on, and even run over by cars a couple of times. But it remains with me, for better or worse, most recently seeing service on the snow man the kids an I built in the yard last Winter.
Greasy stains...felt fur matted with dirt...

...a mere shred of the leather sweatband remained, the satin lining lost completely long ago...

It even had a tear in it, about two inches wide, right in front where the brim meets the ribbon. A lost cause? Hardly.

It's been a while since I wore this style of hat regularly, but lately I've been in the mood. I nabbed a really dressy black number not too long ago, and it got me thinking that it would be nice to have a proper hat that was less formal, one that would look equally well with a Barbour and jeans or a suit and overcoat. The search landed me at the Salmagundi Hat Shop in the Jamaica Plain area in Boston. They have quite a few nice hats, and one of any real quality will run a guy just shy of $100. I was willing to pay, but none of the hats really got me, mostly because all I really wanted was my old hat back. Turns out for $110, a price just $22 higher than the hat I nearly settled for, Salmagundi offers a complete overhaul service. So I grabbed my old brown hat, snapped a few quick photos of it in its ratty state, and headed (ha, "head"ed) over. About a month later, the hat was ready, and I invite you all to join me in welcoming my prodigal son back home. Let's kill the fatted calf.

What I got was something shocking, to me anyway. A beautiful brown fur felt hat, sharp and clean, with a lot more shape than the junker I left with them. Still, for as sharp and "new" as it was, it retained the familiar softness and easy fit of my "old" hat. The best new things really are old things.

A brand new grosgrain ribbon with an expertly pleated bow gives new life to this warhorse. The slightly darker brown color gives it a bit of a new feel, perhaps a bit more "city" and a bit less "Grapes of Wrath". By contrast, the fur felt is a few shades lighter, having shed its decades of grit, and once again has the soft fuzzy nap of a nice new hat. The original brim binding in tan grosgrain privides just the right touch of contrast.

Inside, a new leather sweat band and a new satin lining, proper style. I can dig the acorn logo, and I have no problem with this hat being rebranded as a Slamagundi. They earned it.
The two inch tear is now completely invisible from the outside...

...though we do have a minor battle scar in the form of this tiny scrap of grosgrain glued to the back of the wound to hold it together. No matter, I like a little battle scar, and given the fact that nearly everything I own has at least one, I'm used to it. Perfection is for suckers anyway.
These kind of hats may not be for every guy, but if you've got what it takes, check these guys out. Plenty here for the well appointed ladies as well. Better still, if you've got an old clunker of faded glory, hand it over for a new lease on life. It's worth every penny.

10 October 2011
Correction: Boyd's of Philadelphia is still running strong and considered to be a decent heberdashery.

08 October 2011

Reader Questions

A question involving men's coats...even if it was 80 degrees in Boston today...
image: Gazette of Fashion, 1872, via Wikipedia

John writes:

I'm having trouble finding a good, classic winter jacket and am wondering if you could throw out some ideas. The only jacket I really have in mind right now is the barbour sylkoil bedale (with a liner). Just a couple things about myself that may be helpful: I'm 21, in college, average build.

For starters, I think a man could do worse in Winter than a Barbour Bedale with zip out lining. The trick here is not to fall too hard for fashion, and get one in your proper size. A Barbour jacket should fit a litle boxy and down to mid thigh. Besides being infinitely better suited to keeping the rain off than a jacket too short, the additional room provides ample space for the coat to be worn over a bulky sweater or even a down vest, a combo I'm quite fond of for snow shovelling. This coat, when fitted such, goes well over a tweed jacket...in a pinch even over a suit. The fashion of the times may be for a coat (or everything else) a size too small, but this will look dated and silly soon enough.  A Barbour may be relatively expensive for a man of 21, but it is an investment, something you'll own and use for a very long time if you purchase wisely. Ebay, outlets, and the Sierra Trading Post are good places to hunt for deals. Just be sure you get one made in England. Otherwise, it ain't really a Barbour.

There are other options, some better than others. A navy surplus pea coat will keep you warm and stylish in casual situations, but can be limiting for dressier affairs. The classic duffel, or toggle, coat looks great with jeans and a sweater, flannels and blazer, or a suit, especially in the "preppy" vein. Honestly, if you're stylish and confident enough, wear it with a tux...I dare you. They're warm as hell,  and the hood is handy in the wind. These days, they've enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, so the options are open wide. Of course, thirft stores are my preferred place to find these things, but you can get one in the mall at the Gap, in a place like Brooks Brothers, or online direct from England. Gloverall is the standard here, but a younger man with a little style can make do with one of the knock-offs until he graduates up to the good stuff. Avoid plaids or silly colors. A duffel coat is best expressed in tan, navy or loden (dark, hunter green).

Dressier still but also versatile is a coat in grey herringbone tweed. Single breasted, with a simple three button front and moderate lapels, this coat was made for suits and business clothes, but has no problem hanging over dark jeans and a sweater. A bit more dashing than the duffle coat, and maybe a bit more grown-up. Make sure it has enough room in the fit to accomodate bulky clothes underneath, and keep it just short of knee length. Again, there are a lot of reasonably good looking cheap options available to young men these days, but if you can, buy the good one. This is another piece you could potentially wear forever, so don't be afraid to invest.

Styles such as the polo, Chesterfield or Covert coat are real swell, but none of these can be the only coat. Save these styles for supplemental options later down the line. "Puffer" coats are great for sledding, skiing, snow ball fights with cute girls, and Sunday morning bacon and eggs trips. They're a disaster with dress clothes, so these too should be supplemental.

Whatever style you choose, and whatever you wear, only one real "rule" applies: keep warm.

That is what a coat is for, after all. Isn't it?

07 October 2011

Top Shelf Vendor : Swamp Rabbit Books

Recently, I aked Top Shelf vendors for some info I could use to write about them here. James, of Swamp Rabbit Books, knocked it out of the park. He replied with a well written missive that gets at the wonder and beauty of old a rare books, but a lot of what he expressed applies to an addiction to anything old and well made. His entire piece is recreated below for your perusal.

A few years before I started Swamp Rabbit Books I was in a huge bookstore on the West Coast, and I came across a misshelved little volume from the 18th century, leatherbound and worn, tucked in with
the glossy paperbacks in the travel section. I wrapped it carefully in my coat and gingerly took it to the customer service counter. The rest of the day I felt like I'd been granted a glimpse through a magical
window that looked out on centuries of history.

Now I am surrounded by books all the time: my bedroom alone has five bookcases in it, not counting the entire wall I converted to shelving when I first moved in. I love it. The smell of ink and paper, the rustle of pages turning, the stateliness of a line of titles standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a shelf. That magic contained in a book goes beyond just words on pages. A book lives through time; it doesn't just exist the way an appliance might, and it collects readers the way a reader might collect books. It keeps a piece of every reader with it: a bookplate, a signature of ownership, a dog-eared page or underlined passage, a hint of wear on the jacket. Books can change lives, and they do. My job is to help make that happen, by connecting books with readers.

I like collectible books, too: the pristine first edition, like a single moment of history -- the debut of a work of art! --preserved as it was that day; the signed copies, once held in the hands of their creator and marked by those hands. I have a few books that were the personal copies of their authors, passed down through the family after they passed.

I founded Swamp Rabbit Books in 2009, when I was living in South Carolina. A swamp rabbit is an unassuming Southern creature probably best known for an incident in which one tried to board a small boat bearing then-president Jimmy Carter, who rather ineffectively attempted to fend it off with a paddle. I thought I'd be opening up a bookstore down there at some point, and it seemed like a good mascot for a Southern bookstore. I began by selling books online, and that's still where I sell most of my books. The store never materialized and when I had the opportunity to move to Boston, one of the literary centers of the country, I jumped on it. I have a few thousand books now, ranging from the 1700s to this year, and I'm adding more all the time. Just like the search for vintage clothing, finding books of
interest is a treasure hunt and a joy.

I'll be returning to the Top Shelf Flea this fall with more modern first editions, more signed copies, and more inexpensive paperbacks. I'll also be bringing some more stationary and art, including the disbound pages of book illustrations that proved popular last spring; some of these will be framed, but most will be loose. I also expect to devote a good bit of space to antiquarian books, which I have not done in the past.

Looking forward to seeing you there!


05 October 2011

Teaser, part II

The old feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys may be a bloody moment in history as well as familiar vintage cartoon fodder to many Americans, but imagine how much more well appointed a feud between the Andersons and the Sutherlands would have been.
A vintage blazer in Anderson tartan, with matching wool tie...

and another set in Old Sutherland tartan. Both recently acquired and being held for Top Shelf Flea Market IV. I really want these jacket to go to someone who sees them up close, marvels at the beautifully dyed and woven cloth, and promises to invite me to the Bobby Burns party he plans to host as a result of his recent unneccesary purchase.

04 October 2011

Casual but Smart: Black and Brown (and Tan and White)

October is here and we've finally had some Fall weather just cool enough to comfortably wear some slightly heavier stuff. In the past, I've been known to dive in too quickly, going into full blast tweed mode too soon. Today, for a day of knocking around Harvard Square with temps in the low 60s, some sun, some rain, this vintage black melton wool jacket was just right:
This black jacket is a good casual piece, despite it's being black in color, rendered in soft melton wool (which I was calling flannel until I realizee my mistake) with open patch pockets and zero shoulder pads (seriously, no shoulder pads at all). Some of you may remember it as one of my many button changing projects. The tie is a vintage 1980s Chaps Ralph Lauren tie found new with tags for $1.99. Black ties can be very dressy, but the tan stripes bring it down a notch, as well as making it compatible with...
...a dressier pair of khaki pants, charcoal cotton socks ($19.50/ package of three pair at Lands' End) and ...gasp!...brown loafers. Brown shoes with a black jacket?! Scandalous?! No, of course not, this is only clothes we're talking about. Remember, though I may be wearing a coat and tie, I'm wearing them by choice for a day of casual activities, including visits to such places as the coffee house, record store and church thrift shop. If you want to appear casual in a coat and tie, it helps if your outfit is not an essay in arcane rules but rather a study in well appointed comfort...within reason, of course.
A brown Donegal Tweed cap with flecks of black, gold and purple (hard to see in the photo) brings it all together.

Knockaround clothes for grown-ups, not pyjamas in public.

03 October 2011

Top Shelf Vendor: Bobby from Boston

In the coming weeks, I'll be doing a short feature on each of the vendors at TSFMIV, starting at the top with Bobby from Boston. The only one among us with absolute zero web presence...because he doesn;t need it. Bobby invented the game, and he remains it's reigning champion. This short video, by Lea Winkler, captures it pretty well for those of you who don't already know.

Bobby From Boston: A Documentary from Lea Winkler on Vimeo.

The man himself may not be there all day (he'll probably be out in some far flung place buying a house full of silk top hats and cutaway coats) but his friendly and knowledgeable cohorts will be manning center stage with a miniature version of all the wonders of his inimitable shop in Boston's South End. Don't miss it.

01 October 2011

Reader Question

This is the first in An Affordable Wardrobe's "Reader Questions" series. We welcome your inquiries on all matters sartorial and thrifty, and a question will be chosen for feature here bi-weekly. For more info, click the tab above.
Reader Michael writes:

I was wondering what your thoughts were about pairing brown accessories with black and white tweed when I saw your 10/30/2010 post in which you paired a black and white tweed and a surcingle belt with brown leather fittings.

I guess I've always been touchy with the black/brown accessory divide. Only recently have I gotten comfortable with pairing gray sweaters or slacks with brown shoes. The problem is that I have a particularly rugged-looking black and white Harris tweed (the weave is coarser than the one in your post) that I picked up--is there a point when a tweed becomes so coarse that you can no longer get away with treating it as gray? In other words, if a black and white tweed gets too coarse, am I dooming myself to black accessories? Am I just being ridiculous, as my wife insists?

In another blazer question, I have several tweed sport coats that fit perfectly with just an oxford shirt; however, as the weather gets colder, I plan on layering by wearing sweaters or sweater vests underneath them. The problem is that, when I button the coats in question over a shirt and a sweater, it looks a tad too snug in the gut. I see a lot of people at our church wearing unbuttoned coats over sweaters, and I've been wondering: are they doing it because, like me, they'd be too too hemmed-in if they buttoned their coats, or do they probably have plenty of room but are just leaving the button undone because they feel like it? In short, should I refrain from wearing a sport coat if I can't button it over a sweater without it looking too snug, or is wearing such a coat open an acceptable alternative?

Michael poses some good questions for the kind of guy who not only bothers to think about these things but actually enjoys it. And  yes, in the opinion of 95% of humanity, he's being crazy. But it's the other 5% that tend be readers here, so let's proceed.

Black shoes with black and white tweed will always be correct, if maybe a little boring. Brown shoes, in my opinion, are the way to go. For one thing, tweed is a fabric with it's origins in British country clothing, so in a sense brown shoes are more appropriate than black, which are for city wear. For another, I find the rich texture of tweeds, flannel and wool tends to look well with the warmer tones of brown leather rather than the colder tones of black. Though it may be actually black and white, I find it best to think of tweed as being grey. Charcoal and dark brown or cordovan shades is a hard combo to beat for what was once considered "casual" attire. Pictured above is my favorite go-to herringbone jacket. You'll notice that the manufacturer has finished it with brown buttons. That pretty much seals the deal.

Personally, I'm almost exclusively a brown shoe guy, reserving black for formal wear and the odd occasion I wear a navy suit with a white shirt. Even then I frequently opt for brown. For some men, they can be tougher to wear than black, as there are so many variations of color. Black may be easier, but brown offers more choices and room for personal flair.

As for the matter of open sports coats, I do think this may have something to do with the additional bulk of sweaters underneath and I think it's fine to wear them open. Remember, you may be in a coat and tie, but a sweater and tweed was once considered casual, and wearing it in a relaxed way is no problem. The purists will kick and scream, but it's best to wear things with a little less attention to perfection sometimes. Tailoring them to fit over sweaters can cause the opposite problem of making a jacket too roomy to wear with just a shirt underneath, which I think would be far worse.

As for what the other guys at church are doing, I think you should be grateful to live in a community where any part of the adult male population is still taking the effort to dress properly for a church service.

p.s. new items this week in the shop.