Brooks Brothers’ Friends & Family Sale

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Brooks Brothers’ mid-season sale has started, coming almost a month earlier than usual. For the moment, you can take 25% off your order with the checkout code FF25. Some notable items I found:

  • Footwear: Brooks’ footwear continues to be the highlight of their inventory. Star picks include these Alden penny loafers in shell cordovan and suede, some very versatile Norwegian split toes, and an absolutely knockout pair of suede cap toe boots (made by Crockett & Jones). Perhaps most notable? Certain models of Edward Greens are included in the promotion.

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Possibly the Best Sport Coat I’ll Ever Own

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I may be speaking too soon — as this jacket is still in transit to me — but this Russell plaid sport coat by Steed may be the best tailored jacket I will ever own. It was inspired by a photo of George Frazier, a writer who started his career as a jazz critic before moving on to more general topics. In 1960, Esquire published his essay titled "The Art of Wearing Clothes," which in my opinion, is one of the best pieces of writing on men’s style that has ever been penned. A must read, if you haven’t already.

Russell plaid is a distinctive check. It’s something like a tan glen plaid, but with the horizontal stripes stripped away, so only the vertical ones remain. For the lateral sections, there are dark, thin lines, typically in plum, brown, or rust orange, which help balance the rest of the pattern. You can find it in the form of a made-to-order hacking jacket at Leonard Logsdail, or in Harrisons and Hardy Minnis’ books if you’re going bespoke. Mine is from Harrisons (Porter & Harding’s Hartwist No. 32137), which is a darker color than the beigey version you’ll find from Hardy.

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Ready-to-Wear, but Hard to Find

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Most of the shoes we buy as style enthusiasts come from England, Italy, and the United States, but other countries have rich shoemaking traditions as well. Japan, for example, has a vibrant community of bespoke cordwainers, who are renowned for their sleek styling and shapely lasts. Certain countries in Central Europe also uphold a long Austro-Hungarian tradition, which includes making a unique style known as the Budapester — a brogued derby with high walls, large medallions, and slightly upturned toes.

In the past few weeks, as fall has been approaching, I’ve been eyeing a few of those Central European makers. They’re not always pretty to look at online, but once you imagine them underneath cavalry twills or corduroys, and paired with a thick and heavy tweed jacket, they suddenly make more sense. They’re country shoes, standing opposite to the slick city oxfords that men wear with business suits, and are great with casualwear (tailored or otherwise).

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The Story of How You Saved Money

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For anyone who doesn’t want to pay bourgeoise money to look proletarian, J. Crew’s Wallace & Barnes sub-line is worth checking out. The line has been around for a few years now, but has surprisingly attracted little attention from the menswear community. Not totally sure why. The pieces have more of a boutique feel than J. Crew’s mainline, are made from considerably better materials, and are supposedly inspired by the vintage pieces that Frank Muytjens and his team routinely collect for their design archive. All things that make other lines appealing, except that Wallace & Barnes doesn’t come with the same price tags. 

Take these two shirts, for example. The first is made from a heavy and thick cotton canvas, and has an interweaving of brown and cream yarns that gives it a unique textured look. The side seams, yoke, and sleeves are all tripled-stitched, and the overall construction has a sturdiness that’s more reminiscent of RRL than J. Crew. The second shirt is an inky-blue, deep indigo-dyed piece, with a white pin dot pattern that has been woven into the fabric (rather than printed on). The subtle variegation in its coloring makes it feel more hand dyed and special — something more like what you’d expect from a niche Japanese label. I picked up both shirts on sale for $35 and $65, respectively. You can hardly drink at a bar in San Francisco these days with that kind of money. 

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The Charm of Tammis Keefe

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I’m not much for the overly cute or quaint, but I find a lot of charm in the work of Tammis Keefe. Keefe was a textile designer in the 20th century, born in Los Angeles in 1913. She worked for a time as a colorist and print designer for the famous Dorothy Liebes, which is where she first became known for her creative illustration style and sharp sense of color. Much of this early work was for architects and interior designers. That is, textiles that would be used in homes and commercial settings.

Sometime in the ‘40s, however, Keefe designed a silk scarf for a friend as a birthday gift. It had “Happy Birthday” written in bold circus letters, and candelabras in purple, blue, and chartreuse. The friend liked it so much that she showed it to Lord & Taylor’s handkerchief buyer, who then showed it to the scarf manufacturer Kimball, who in turn commissioned six designs – each orientated to appeal to a certain type of personality (the antique collector, the musician, the sports fan, etc). The pieces sold out immediately, and happy clients continued to promote her work and commission new art. Between 1944 and 1960, Keefe created hundreds of handkerchief designs, with each one featuring her signature at the corner (a rare thing for textile designers at the time, and even rarer today). 

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The Closest You’ll Get to An RL Archive

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Many brands maintain archives. Doing so allows designers to not have to reinvent the wheel every season. LL Bean Signature, for example, is mostly just a youthful reworking of the LL Bean’s archive, which the company started some decades ago with old items they received from customers. Ralph Lauren also has an archive. It’s apparently located off-site in New Jersey, but access is so limited that few designers from the company are even allowed in. So, fat chance you or I will ever see photos of it pop up somewhere.

The closest we’ll get is this old issue of Free & Easy, which is dedicated to Ralph Lauren. There are interviews with the man himself and his family, some shots of his stores around the world, and a pretty awesome section on vintage things he’s collected over the years (lots of early 20th century military watches, leather jackets, and Navajo jewelry. A couple of old jeeps are thrown in for good measure).

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City Squares

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For those who want to take the term “international style” a bit literally, Australia-based designer Christian Kimber has been slowly building a collection of city-themed pocket squares that I think is both highly unique and appealing. The squares all feature original art by the designer, and are inspired by the different cities he’s been to. The London square, for example, features the Gherkin skyscraper that he used to pass by every day, while the Hong Kong square is inspired by the skyline he saw in Kowloon (where my shirtmaker Ascot Chang is based, coincidentally). I’ve been admiring the set for a while, but had to wait until the Kimber released his square for Vietnam – where my family is originally from – before I bought my first one.

The designs are great, and have a nice international flavor that I think most men can appreciate, but it’s the abstracted shapes that make them a bit more unique than my usual favorites from Drake’s, Rubinacci, and Holland & Holland. In the pocket, they take on a modern look, perhaps more in the line of Tom Ford than any of the aforementioned companies. Twist a little here or there, and you can show off different colors as you wish. The size, thankfully, is also big enough to not slip down the pocket (something that’s increasingly hard to find nowadays, unfortunately). Quality and make here are similar to Drake’s, and I believe both lines are produced at the same factory. 

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Vintage Russell Moccasin Catalogs

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Before custom shoemaking in the US was mostly bespoke and made-to-orders, there was a small niche of manufacturers who would make shoes based off of the individualized foot tracings that customers would mail in. Russell Moccasin was one such firm. They sold shoes through outfitters such as Orvis, Eddie Bauer, and Abercrombie & Fitch (when the company still served outdoorsmen and adventurers), as well directly to customers through their large catalog business. 

Here are some photos of such catalogs. These date back to the early ’80s and late ’90s. Notice that every one includes a foldout form, which has a Brannock-looking diagram on which you’re supposed to trace your foot. This tracing — along with fourteen other measurements you’re supposed to provide of your feet and legs — is what gave Russell enough information to make you a perfectly fitting pair of sport shoes.

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New Ralph Lauren Arrivals

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Nothing rare or esoteric today, just a bunch of new Ralph Lauren fall/ winter releases that I think look pretty great. Some notables:

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Italian Moccasins

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In men’s clothing, we get most of our traditions from England, but our best casualwear from the US and Italy. Take footwear, for example. Where the English have given us traditional oxfords, derbys, and brogues, it’s the Italians and Americans who have come up with the best slip-ons. In the US, there are boat shoes, tassel loafers, penny loafers, and various incarnations of the handsewn moccasin; in Italy, there are Gucci horsebit loafers and driving mocs. The number of Italian styles in this case is smaller than what the Americans have to offer, but their significance is no less important. It’s the Italian slip-on that you want if you need something on the dressier side of casual. 

Gucci loafers are too flashy for my taste, but I really like drivers in the summer. They were most famously worn by Gianni Agnelli in the mid-century, which is perhaps why we associate them with that carefree lifestyle along the Amalfi coast and the Italian sense of sprezzatura. As the story goes, Agnelli started wearing them after his car accident in 1953. His then lover, Pamela Harriman, caught him with another woman, and while he was fleeing, he crashed his Ferrari into the back of a lorry. The accident left him with a bad foot, so he needed to wear soft, more comfortable shoes. 

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