17 October 2014

Reader Questions : Darts or No Darts?

(from "Clothes and the Man", by Alan Flusser)

Reader Ryan writes:

Curious, do you have an opinion about darted vs. non-darted jackets?  And for that matter,..how about sack suits vs. updated American cut suits?

Simple as this question may seem it's actually quite a good one because it cuts right to the meat of the detail obsessed world of #menswear, and let's us talk about which details really matter, and why.

As anyone who reads this blog can easily guess, my own sense of style leans heavily toward East Coast American traditional clothing. However, I also have a deep appreciation for British tailoring. As a result, I tend to shoot for what I call an "Anglo-American" approach to dressing, combining elements of each school of thought. I appreciate Italian tailoring as well, but despite being Italian myself, tend to shy away from it, as it doesn't really suit my figure or lifestyle.

For those who may not know, a dart is a small partial seam that runs up the front panels of a jacket from the pocket to the chest, giving the coat a bit of shaping in the sides. A "sack jacket" doesn't have darts, and therefore has a boxier shape, For generations this one of the distinguishing features of American dress, the other being a "natural shoulder" with minimal padding. In my own wardrobe, there are examples of both. I'm pretty ambivalent about whether a jacket has darts, instead considering the overall shape and cut of the garment. Personally, I look for a natural shoulder, with soft suppression at the waist, and an easy but correct fit. Whether this was achieved with darts or with shaping at the side seams doesn't much matter to me. I feel the same way about pleats vs. flat front pants. I want my trousers to fit comfortably without being baggy. These days I tend to prefer forward pleats, despite the fact that are considered "incorrect" in an East Coast traditional wardrobe, again because they suit my figure and lifestyle better. The fact that they are a little different, irreverent even, is only a plus.

The clothes you wear should make you look good. The best way to achieve this is to choose cuts and styles that compliment you. These days it's easy to read the internet and fill your head with a long list of so-called inviolable rules, but following those rules by rote to the letter won't necessarily help you dress well. Know what they are, why they exist, and then adapt them to yourself, using what a friend once called a "broad stroke traditionalism". It can make the difference between looking like you're going as "Take Ivy" for Halloween and being stylish and well dressed.

04 October 2014

Follow Up: The Knot Standard Jacket

I am more than a bit overdue with this post, but here is the follow up of the revisions to my jacket from Knot Standard. To review, Knot Standard is yet another of the growing number of companies offering "online custom". Having had less than good experiences in this realm before, I decided to give them a chance and took them up on their offer of a free jacket back in July

I was impressed with the company then. The communication was great, the website easily navigated, and the jacket was of quality cloth and construction and arrived fairly quickly. The trouble was that the shoulders were cut too narrow and the length of the coat was a little long. After a very cordial correspondence with them on the matter, they remade my jacket and the new one arrived about a month later.

I must say I am more than impressed. The new jacket has been adjusted perfectly, and I look forward to wearing it next Summer. Besides getting a quality garment at was is effectively a reasonable price ($395) the level of service was something that you don't see much anymore. That's worth as much as the jacket to me.

I may  not have paid for it, but I'd have to say that Knot Standard is worth every penny. Their prices rival that of many ready to wear brands of lesser quality, and the service is great. If you're not one to scour the dirty thrift shops like me, but you're less than  satisfied with what your money gets you at retail these days, give them a try.

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.