20 May 2013
Last Fall, I was contacted by group of students at Tufts University working on a short film exploring the social impact of consumerism on American culture. After a long wait and without further ado, I am proud to present to you "The Receipt of Happiness", in which you get to hear me pontificate aloud in full accent on the merits of second hand shopping. Thank you Jacob, Robert, Grace, and Doug and congratulations on a job well done.
18 May 2013
To put it bluntly, this is a purple shirt, and I don't care for purple. In the now iconic book "Class", Paul Fussell berates all clothing purple as the mark of a prole. "If navy is the upper middle class color, purple is the prole equivalent."-Class, p. 52. Funny, and true. But let's not forget that books like Fussell's "Class" or, God help us, the infamous "Official Preppy Handbook" were never meant to be the hard and fast instruction manuals they seem to be regarded s today. They were meant to point out the foibles of both rich and poor in a way that was instructive in it's tongue in cheek humor. Still, I'm not a purple kind of guy.
Then I find this shirt for next to nothing at a thrift shop. It's my size, it's made of a really nice piece of cloth, and it's from the Andover Shop. I try not to be blinded by brand name, but this is one hell of a shirt...and its not really "purple" so much as its "lavender"....and even our man Paul said "colors are classier the more pastel or faded" ibid. So, even purple is acceptable if its pale, I guess.
So I buy it, take it home, wash it, and iron it. I see it in my closet, and don't know quite how I'll wear it. Then today it's really warm and sunny, and I need away to throw some new life into the Spring uniform that is navy jacket and tan pants. How about that purple shirt?
Immediately, I see that this shirt is a lot more workable than I might have thought at first. Yes, its some kind of purple, but it's very pale, and its very well made. I quickly realize that this shirt will work like a blue shirt, but with a whiff more style. Today, in an outfit that otherwise consisted of navy/white/khaki, it added just the right bit of dandy, and it was something I would never ave considered had I not found it by chance, and cheap.
I often advise that if you want to be successful at thrift shopping, it helps to throw out your expectations. You just can't walk into such a place looking for something as specific as "charcoal flat front flannels size 34". You can start by walking in to see what they have, that day. Then keep coming back. Then learn not to be blinded by brands, then develop a discerning eye, then lastly look at everything and keep an open mind. I would never walk into a retail store looking for a lavender shirt, and I certainly would not pay upwards of $100 for one. But in the end, I'm glad to have one. Certainly, personal style is something that comes from within,but it gets better when you step back a bit and let it come to you.
16 May 2013
People who don' t shop in thrift stores tend to share the common misconception that thrift shopping is a matter of compromise, of settling for what you can get. They're wrong. In fact, shopping in places like Walmart and Target is settling for what you can get. Allow me to explain.
I'm not about to open a conversation on blind brand allegiance. Nor am I about to infer that you are less of a person for using mass market products. I am only going to suggest that it is in fact possible to do this while abstaining from participation in the mass market, and in the long run, come out ahead.
This time of year, I tend to shy away from dungarees for the go-to pants in favor of khakis. For one thing, I find jeans to be nothing but uncomfortable on a warm day. For another, khakis run the gamut from casual to dressy. For this reason, several pair (or at least a few) are best.
When it comes to khakis, or other widely produced items, thrift shops come into their own. In the past, I've owned many pairs of J. Crew "Essential Chinos",though I never purchased a single pair from J. Crew. Thrift shops are full of them, usually for five or six bucks a pair. They're good enough, and cheap enough. I don't even have to settle for "Dockers". In Spring, I practically wear a uniform or tan pants and navy blue jackets. As such, khakis are something of a commodity for me. So I buy the mall brand khakis for cheap, and wear them out.Then little by little, they are replaced with better goods,for the same price. To wit, the current rotation, seen above,
At left we have a pair of Brooks Brothers "Madison" chinos. A nice, darker shade of tan, these chinos do dressy and casual equally well. I have this pair dry cleaned, so I wear them dressy when they're crisp, and casual when a little dirty and rumpled. A definite improvement and/or upgrade to the J, Crew models, in a very nice shade of darker tan. Nice as these chinos are, it pays to remember that once venerable stalwarts like "Brooks Brothers" are only just brand names now, and no real guarantee of quality and/or "realness". ( We used to call that 'authenticity' in the day, before that word was considered "artisinal.")
In the middle, we have the "fanciest" pair. A custom job from Alan Rouleau of Boston,this pair is made from a lighter, more delicate cloth, a clear departure from the military/hard wearing roots of khaki clothing. I wear this pair almost exclusively with a blazer and tie. Dressy for when no one else is and confidence is your only weapon.
Far right, vintage army khakis. Thicker than the others, heavier than the others. These are the real deal, the pair I use for working around the house, running errands, or anything that involves a lot of driving.
I still have an old pair of J.Crew 'essential chinos" too. Stained with paint from the kids' bedroom, they are soft and comfortable, perfect for anytime when I have real work to do. I even wear them out sometimes, in spite of the recent paint splattered khaki silliness some designers have engaged in lately.
You'll often here clothing blogs give the advice to young men that when starting to build a wardrobe, it helps to find good less expensive versions of things to start with until you can afford to move up to the better stuff. This is where my point about how thrift shops can be less of a compromise than "big box" stores come into it. You can still begin with starter stuff, at a price so cheap that you're not wasting your time or money on inferior goods. You don't even have to participate in the corporate cycle to acquire them. Better still, when the opportunity to upgrade comes along, you can step up to the better stuff for the same price, and it will effectively be a reward for your patience and perseverance.
p.s. Indiegogo, remember? Push, push, push!
p.p.s. I began writing this post last night, then saved the draft. Seems it got hacked and published with some added weird stuff at the end. My apologies to anyone who read it in its weird version. I've fixed the problem and completed the post properly.
14 May 2013
A while back, I was approached by the owners of Beckett-Simonon about reviewing a pair of their shoes. For those who don't know, Beckett-Simonon produces a small range of classically styled shoes, all for $89 a pair. Their styles include longwings, derbies and chukka boots, in a selection of colors. For my pair, I chose chukkas in a medium brown called "chestnut".
Given the amount of shopping I do in thrift stores, it can be difficult for me to be objective at times about the value of new goods. After all, I have shell cordovan shoes in my closet that should sell for over $600 that I got for less than $10. But I'll do my best to be fair.
I like the fact that Beckett-Simonon is offering new shoes at a decent price. These would be great for a younger guy just building his wardrobe, without a lot to spend. The styles are classic, the shoes are pretty well made, and I must admit, very comfortable to wear. Much of what they carry may not be dressy enough for a business suit, but they are versatile enough to work with a sports jacket and tie or jeans. The leather may not be the best there is, bit its decent, and the shoes are less than $100. I see them the same way I see much of what J. Crew offers. It's perfectly reasonable stuff designed with a good sense of style, if perhaps a bit youthful. It's easily had, and will serve a man well until he decides to take the plunge into the better(more expensive) stuff...or if you're lucky, until you find the better stuff for nothing at thrift.
I talk a lot about thrift stores here, but it worth mentioning that for a lot of people, even veteran thrifters, old shoes can be where the line is drawn. In that case, these guys are perfect, offering something new at a fair price.
Sizing seems to run a bit small. I wear a US 10, sometimes 9 1/2, but my pair of chukkas is a 10 1/2 and they fit fine. They've been shelved for now, but I expect will be in the regular casual/jeans rotation come Fall.
p.s. $1370 raised so far in our Indiegogo campaign. What a great start! Thanks to all who contributed and helped get the word out. Let's keep the ball rolling.
11 May 2013
Above we see two recently acquired plaid jackets,both now part of my own Affordable Wardrobe. One is for Summer, and one is for Winter. Both are knockout punches, in their way.
One for now, in paper thin real India madras. The colorway is classic, and just loud enough. Wearing this jacket is like wearing nothing at all.
Store brand from some store I never heard of...my favorite kind of score....in Bermuda no less. I'll take a tag from a long gone men's shop over a well known expensive brand name almost every time. This is about as "preppy" or "trad" as it gets, I guess.
One for later, in luxurious soft tweed, brown check with rust and blue accents. This one will need to spend some time waiting in the closet, but it will give something to look forward to in September.
Made in Italy of Loro Piana fabric, entirely New Zealand Merino wool, soft Neapolitan shoulders, high gorge lapels, and side vents, about as hot sh*t European as it gets.
Two very different jackets, but they appeal to me equally, if for different reason. Extremely different though they may be, I see no good reason why they can't live in the same wardrobe. Or maybe I'm just talking like an Italian kid who grew up in Boston.
Indiegogo campaign a few days ago.I was looking at office space, but I find this place irresistible. Built in to the first floor of a house, it's just right for what will become the actual An Affordable Wardrobe shop. If I can raise $600 more by Monday I'll be able to make the initial payment and sign the lease for a public opening in September. If you live in the Boston area, you'll be able to shop in person.If you live anywhere else, I'll be able to expand and improve my webstore, offering new stuff much more frequently. Any help is appreciated. Many thanks to those of you who have already contributed.
07 May 2013
It's never been easy for me to ask for help, and harder still to ask for money,so bear with me a little here.
As many of you know, I started this blog five years ago because my friends and I saw a gap in the then burgeoning online menswear community. We discovered the blogs in their infancy, and being the clothes-mad bunch we are, followed them with a voracious appetite. They showed us the good stuff and the good life, but much like the magazines and books that preceded them, didn't really offer much advice for the less-than-well-to-do. I had been both hooked on the good stuff and broke my whole life, and had developed quite a knack for overcoming the shortfalls of my wallet. With the encouragement of those friends, An Affordable Wardrobe was born.
In the beginning, I couldn't believe anyone was reading outside that small circle of friends, let alone commenting. When I held the first Top Shelf Flea Market, now nearing it's seventh edition, I was humbled by the turn-out. When I launched my own online shop, it was more than I could have imagined I'd be doing when I first sat down to pen my tales of penury and cheapskate-ism. But more than all this, the friends I've made, even in far flung places, are the supreme reward.
Now for the really tacky part. I think it's time to take the next step and move An Affordable Wardrobe out of the house and into it's own space. That's why I've launched a campaign on Indiegogo. My hope is to raise enough money to rent an upstairs space and fit it out like an old school haberdashery. Think Alan Flusser, only crazy cheap and second hand. This will not only allow me to keep open hours but also bring the web shop to a new level, offering more new items with greater frequency and turn over shipping more quickly. I've already scouted out a few good spots in the Greater Boston area, but just need a little help to get the papers signed.
So many of you have been so kind in the past. If you've ever thought of helping me out in this labor of love, now's your chance. If you can't contribute, please tell your friends and spread the word through all the usual media channels. Every little bit helps. In return,I promise to keep the begging to a minimum here.
For more info, see here, or click the Indiegogo logo in the sidebar.
Penury may indeed be no excuse, but every now and then a fella could use a couple of bucks.
p.s. link added. Thanks Bob. oops