An Old Umbrella

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My friend Réginald-Jérôme de Mans - who’s a weekly contributor to A Suitable Wardrobe’s blog - is remarkably good at finding menswear-related items on eBay. Or anywhere on the web, really. In fact, he was a guest on A Suitable Wardrobe’s first podcast episode for just this skill. It aired almost a full three years ago, but is still available for listening here under the title "Browsing for Bargains on the Web."

What makes RJ’s finds exciting is that they’re often things of exceptional quality, such as leather goods from Hermes; stuff from the heydays of “once were” companies such as Old England and Arnys; or items slightly off the beaten path, such as intricately designed ties and the occasional … riding whip. When I can, I try to include some of his links in our eBay roundups over at Put This On. Except for the few times when I want something for myself.

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Spring for Barbour

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I can’t help but to keep coming back to Barbour every season. This past fall/ winter, I picked up two pieces from their collaboration line with Norton & Sons, both of which have come into regular rotation. There’s this black Shetland sweater, which is wonderfully thick and hardy, and has a tightly knit ribbed hem to help it stay up on the torso. The sweater’s unusual texture adds some important surface interest when it’s layered underneath a simpler jacket. I also bought this waxed cotton field coat, which has two button-tabs at the back to give the coat some shaping, hidden storm cuffs to help keep the wind out, and two big pockets for stowage. I’ve been wearing it with beat up jeans and boots whenever the weather feels cold or wet.

As I’ve mentioned before, the problem with many of these pieces is that they’re hard to appreciate just through photographs. They lack the kind of unusual detailing that makes things popular on blogs or help catch a customer’s eye as he’s scrolling through an online store’s inventory. Instead, they focus more on simple designs and unique materials. The shell on my new field coat, for example, feels more interesting than the coated cottons I’ve handled from Apolis or Filson. Scuffs show-up more easily in the wax, which gives the coat some character, and the velvet collar, I suspect, will wear down beautifully over time.

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1930s Esquire and Apparel Arts Illustrations

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London Lounge member Mihn recently posted some remarkable scans of old issues of Esquire and Apparel Arts, all originally published around the 1930s or so. Apparel Arts was a quarterly large-format publication, started by Arnold Gingrich, who was also the founder of Esquire. Where Esquire was aimed at the consumer, Apparel Arts was for the trade. You see, buyers who work for clothing stores today typically rely on lookbooks, tradeshows, and fashion magazines to decide what they should stock each season. This wasn’t so in the 1930s. Back then, small independent shops relied on Apparel Arts to figure out what the best dressed men wore, and consequently what they should offer to their customers.

For a number of reasons, the usefulness of Apparel Arts declined after the end of the Second World War, so it was transformed into GQ in 1957. One of the conspicuous things you’ll notice is that – along with scantily clad women – GQ today has small caption boxes listing the brands of the clothes they’re promoting. Fashion spreads will say things such as “Suit by Ralph Lauren $2,875; Shirt by Brioni $475; Tie by Zegna $185.” In Apparel Arts, there were no such captions. It was a publication simply about how to dress well given different settings.

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Josephine Baker Pocket Squares

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In happy weekend news, Drake’s full spring/ summer collection is now available on their website. Included are some summer shirts made in their newly acquired Rayner & Sturges factory, as well as some ready-to-wear sunglasses from Nackymade. They’ve also expanded their colors for grenadines (now boasting many shades of green, brown, and blue) and broadened their line of shantungs. In addition, the unique fuzzy mohair tie they introduced last season seems to have been kept, and there are some basic repp stripes to satisfy their more conservative customers.

Perhaps most interesting of all is their pocket square line. There’s a handsome cotton animal print that I think would sit well in the pocket of any tropical wool or linen sport coat, as well as a spring/ summer version of their tile print design. I actually bought a couple of their tile prints last season and have found them to be incredibly useful. The print is unusual enough to not overly match any tie, but also conservative enough to not stick out too much on its own.

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A Cruel Cosmic Law

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There must be some cruel cosmic law that puts everything we covet just outside of our reach. It doesn’t matter what your budget is. If you’re used to spending $200 on something, the thing you’ll want most will cost $300. If you’re used to spending $1,000, the most desirable item will cost $1,500. I was reminded of this when I stopped by Self Edge recently to try on some new jeans. While aimlessly browsing around, I also found a couple of great leather jackets, the star of which is this black cafe racer by The Himel Brothers.

Cafe racers are simple, single rider jackets with stand up collars, two to four slash pockets, and zippered sleeves. Although they were originally designed for just motorcycle use, they eventually came to symbolize American ideals of freedom and rebellion. Naturally, with social appeal came fashionable imitations, which is perhaps why Bruce Boyer once said that black leather jackets are just shadows of their former selves, “diluted to the point of mere role-playing.” That’s undoubtedly true, although I admit that doesn’t stop me from still liking them.

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New London Lounge Deliveries

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I recently received two new London Lounge fabrics, which is great timing because Steed will be touring the US next month. Included in the shipment was a brown Shetland herringbone, with qualities that I’ve found impossible to get elsewhere. Spongy and light in the hand, it has the large enough pattern to distinguish it as a true herringbone when worn. I’ve put down two other swatches below for comparison – one from Abraham Moon and another from a mill I no longer remember. Most herringbones you’ll see today are like these (either in cloths or ready-made garments). They’re often too smooth, too red, too yellow, too dark, too light, too muddled, or most of all, too small in pattern. This one, in contrast, is perfect. It’s thick, heavy, and tweedy, and carries just the right combination of mid- and dark-browns to make it look rich and earthy. My photos unfortunately don’t do it justice. You should rely on the first photo below (supplied by The London Lounge) and Voxsartoria’s picture above for more accurate representations. The cloth is truly fantastic.

The second is a cream and brown glen plaid that was modeled after a jacket Gianni Agnelli was often seen wearing. This too has a large-scale pattern, although this time it’s aggressive enough to give me reservation. Large patterns have the advantage of helping distinguish odd jackets as true odd jackets (rather than suit jackets), but once too large, it can start looking like a horse blanket. I’m slightly afraid this is too big for my frame, although photos of Agnelli and Alden in theirs make me consider otherwise.

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A Post That Will Please No One

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This post is sure to please no one. Not traditionalists who have no interest in anything outside of a coat and tie. Not workwear purists who dislike any kind of pre-distressing. And certainly not anyone who knows the name of this blog, who will rightly wonder why they’re reading about workwear on a site called Die, Workwear! But, so it goes …

Lately, I’ve been really impressed with Chimala. It’s a Japanese line that started in 2006, originally with a focus on women’s collections, but has recently expanded into menswear. Pants tend to fit a bit loose and full, and have a casual, carefree sensibility that I think is refreshing today’s skin tight fits. Coats and shirts are a bit slimmer, with the second being more so than the first. The line is slightly reminiscent of Japanese brands such as 45rpm, and will probably appeal to the same fan base.

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Quality in Alligator and Crocodile Leathers

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There’s a building in Moscow called GUM (pronounced “goom”) that sits in the city’s historic Red Square. It’s massive, running alongside the square, and vaguely resembles some of London’s old railway stations. It was built in the 19th century as a marketplace, and held over a thousand stores at the peak of its operation. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the building was nationalized and the stores were taken over by the state through Lenin’s New Economic Policy. That unfortunately failed, so under Stalin, the merchants were kicked out completely and the building was converted into office space for the ruling Communist Party.

Since the end of the Second World War, GUM has slowly moved back to a private business model, and today is basically a shopping mall for Russia’s elites. The Russians have a funny saying about the place – that it’s an “exhibition of prices” since few people can actually afford to buy anything there. GUM holds stores such as Cucinelli (where I once tried on a pair of sweatpants that cost several thousand dollars), Hermes, and John Lobb. It’s funny to me that, today, if you stand in Red Square, you can see almost all of Russian history by just sweeping your head from one side to the other. There’s Saint Basil’s Cathedral representing “pre-modern” Russia; Lenin’s tomb representing the Communist era; and GUM, which is essentially a mall for today’s Russian oligarchs.  

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Unfortunately, They’re Not That Floppy

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Everyone seems to want things custom-made these days, but there’s an advantage to ready-made that’s rarely talked about. With ready-made, you can more easily see what you’re getting before you pay for it. I was reminded of this when I recently received a pair of made-to-order loafers from Rancourt. These are their pinch penny loafers – moccasin constructed, with a handsewn strap, hard leather bottom, and unlined leather uppers. The term “unlined” here is a bit of a misnomer, because few shoes are truly made without any lining. Like with neckties, “unlined” in footwear typically means there’s just less lining, not that there’s no lining at all.

To explain, well-made shoes often have a full leather liner built in, so that two layers of leather are joined together to form the upper. This gives the shoes more support and structure, so that they hold their shape better over time. I wanted an unlined shoe, however, to feel like Alden’s unlined penny loafers. Those are floppy, soft, and feel like slippers. Those who’ve worn them know how comfortable they are. The problem is that they have a skin stitched detailing at the toe, rather than a genuine moccasin stitch. This means a single piece of leather is pulled over the last, and then a “skin stitch” is made at the toe for decorative effect. A genuine handsewn, on the other hand, is made with at least two pieces of leather – one forming the sides of the upper, and another for the vamp – with a handsewn saddle stitch to join everything together. That’s the moccasin style Maine producers are known for, and to my eye looks more pleasing for such a casual style shoe.

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Clothes With History

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Bench & Loom recently expanded the Phoenix Project, so that it’s now its own separate business with a new website. The Phoenix Project is one of Jared and Brooke Zaugg’s productions (Jared and Brooke being the co-founders of Bench & Loom) dedicated to recreating clothes worn by classic style icons – the stuff many of us have only admired through old films or photographs. Each collection starts in collaboration with a film studio, music label, or family estate, and research involves tracking down existing originals, pouring over photo archives, and analyzing films. Once an authentic design has been created, it’s sent to a small-scale manufacturer to be made up. Each garment is then hand-numbered to mark the run as limited edition.  

Vintage reproductions are nothing new, of course. The Japanese have been doing them for decades. But the Phoenix Project is perhaps a bit more interesting in that it’s outside of the usual workwear/ Americana focus, and democratizes the process by allowing members to vote on specific items they’d like to see brought back to life. Once votes are cast, pre-orders are made, which then allows the team to bring the design to their manufacturers.

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