A Soft History of American Radicals, Revolutionaries, and Christians

Shots were fired in the late summer of 1777, a year after the United States declared independence, as some 15,000 British soldiers descended onto Philadelphia, then the seat of the rebellious Second Continental Congress. After some hard-fought battles that resulted in over a thousand Continental Army deaths, the British marched into Philadelphia unopposed. The Continental Congress first relocated to Lancaster and then York, leaving civilians behind in Philly. One of those civilians was Molly Rinker.

Molly Rinker, also known to friends as Old Mom Rinker, was a matronly woman who ran a Philadelphia tavern. While George Washington and his troops were encamped just a few miles outside of the city, Mom Rinker closely tended to British soldiers and Tories, keeping their plates full, their beer pitchers flowing, and the conversation animated. But her intentions went beyond just providing good service. While drunken redcoats chatted away, Mom Rinker picked up bits and pieces of information, which she then covertly jotted down in the backroom. Each night, she wrapped her notes around tiny stones, and then hid those stones inside large balls of yarn. And on the following day, she took her knitting needles and yarn to the outskirts of town, where she’d climb high atop of a rocky ridge. From this vantage, Mom Rinker could easily survey the area. She would then sit down and proceed to innocently knit.

With yarn strewn around her and knitting needles in her hand, Mom Rinker was a portrait of tranquil domesticity. British soldiers who may have seen her from afar suspected nothing. But from this position, Mom Rinker could see when a Continental soldier emerged from the brush below. When she did, she’d gently nudge a ball of yarn over the brink, causing it to tumble to the ground, and the soldier would then scoop up, pocket, and carry her priceless message to George Washington. Old Mom Rinker, who never dropped a stitch, was America’s first and perhaps only sweater-making spy. She turned cloak-and-dagger techniques into yarn and knitting needles.

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The Complex Web of Production

On a warm afternoon in April 2009, the machines at the Southwick factory briefly stopped humming, as workers took a break from sewing fine men's suits and naval officers' uniforms so they could listen to two distinguished guests speak. The guests were Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio Del Vecchio, who were visiting that day to congratulate workers on their new facility. Just a year prior, Southwick, which was then located in Lawrence, Massachusetts, was on the verge of closing and having its operations moved to Thailand. It was then narrowly rescued by its largest customer, Brooks Brothers, who purchased the factory and relocated it just ten miles north to Haverhill.

Compared to its old location, the new Southwick factory had countless upgrades, including air conditioning and about $10 million in new manufacturing equipment. Instead of rolling out large, heavy bolts of cloth by hand, as workers used to do, this Haverhill factory had a computer-guided machine that effortlessly skimmed across a cutting table. When Del Vecchio promised in a speech that "Southwick's best days are still to come," hundreds of workers erupted with applause. "If it weren't for him, we'd be in the unemployment line," Regina Parisi, a stitcher, told The Eagle-Tribune.

Earlier this year, news leaked that Brooks Brothers was planning to close all three of its US factories — the suit factory in Haverhill, MA; shirt factory in Garland, NC; and necktie factory in Queens, NY — which spurred concerns about the brand's future and its identity as a "made in America" label. As it turned out, Brooks Brothers was trimming its cost structure and preparing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. By the end of summer, Southwick's equipment was sold off, and a Japanese company acquired the rights to its name. Meanwhile, the Garland shirt factory has been sold to a company specializing in manufacturing personal protective equipment. Such has been the long decline of Brooks Brothers' American footprint. Forty years ago, nearly all of Brooks Brothers' clothing was manufactured in the United States. Before their closure, these three remaining US facilities produced just 20 percent of Brooks Brothers' inventory, which has mostly shifted to sportswear.

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Black Friday: The Cozy Edit

There's a wonderful photo of a grey-haired Ralph Lauren sitting at home, lounging in his leather armchair while looking pensively out the window. He's wearing coral orange trousers, likely made from corduroy, a pair of black velvet Prince Albert slippers, and a green cable-knit layered over a white dress shirt. Lauren, who's a master orchestrator when it comes to image making, knew precisely how to tell a story through the objects that surrounded him. He omitted the stuffed animal heads traditionally used to decorate rich men's hunting lodges at the turn of the last century. However, he included the books, sculptures, paintings, pillows, and throws traditionally associated with hominess and Old World domesticity. The photo says one thing: this man is comfortable.  

As many of us are spending more time at home these days, I thought I'd put together a list of some of my favorite domestic items, which are now part of various Black Friday promotions. Over at Put This On, you can find a full list of every worthwhile Black Friday and Cyber Monday deal for the next few days (I will be updating the list periodically). But this one focuses on just those things that I think make life at home more comfortable. For me, that means wearing chunky shawl collar cardigans with five-pocket cords, leather slippers, and flannel shirts. It also means rediscovering old hobbies, listening to forgotten records, and cooking up something delicious to eat. 

If you're looking to do some Black Friday shopping this weekend, here are ten things that can make life at home more comfortable. Hopefully, you can find something here that works for you. 

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Mr. Porter Starts Black Friday Sale

Mr. Porter's massive selection puts them in everyone's orbit. Whether you favor classic tailored clothing, Japanese workwear, or oversized, minimalist contemporary garb, Mr. Porter likely carries more than a handful of brands for you. 

Today, Mr. Porter started their Black Friday promotion, where you can take up to 30% off select items. Inis Meain's sweaters are expensive, even with the discount, but absolutely exquisite and a joy to wear. Engineered Garments and Chimala are personal favorites for workwear; SNS Herning is great textured knitwear you can layer under heavy coats (be sure to size up). 

Things tend to move fast at Mr. Porter. Given the size and scope of their inventory, your best bet is to filter things by category, then brands, and then sizing. If you're on the fence about an item, I recommend just taking a chance and returning if things don't work out (Mr. Porter offers free and easy returns). If you want some quick highlights, here are ten things that I think are notable. 

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Seven Amazing Black Friday Sales

It's that time of year again. Black Friday is technically supposed to start on Friday, but many retailers have gotten a jump on their promotions. This Friday, I'll be rounding up some of my favorite sales both here and at Put This On. But for some early Black Friday shopping, here are seven stellar deals. 

No Man Walks Alone: Up to 35% Off, No Code Needed

No Man Walks Alone is a sponsor on this site, but also genuinely one of my favorite online stores. Founder Greg Lellouche worked for a time as a banker on Wall Street, so he knows his way around a classic coat-and-tie rig. At the same time, he has an exceptional eye for casualwear. Take the suede Valstar jacket below, for example, which comes in both black and tan. It has a Western styled yoke, snap button pockets, and a generously shaped collar that looks great when popped from the back. You can wear it with denim, chinos, or even wool trousers. The subtle Western details give it a bit more flavor than your average suede bomber, and it looks especially good with sneakers or boots. I recommend taking your regular jacket size. 

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Streetwear From Above

In 1994, advertising executive Donald Rifkin came up with a new installment for Coca-Cola's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign, designed to promote the company's sparkling lemon-lime beverage Sprite. In the commercial, a young white teen with an unfortunate center-part haircut wrestles with one of life's eternal questions: "what is cool?" As he stands at a city intersection, our narrator considers the various identities he can adopt to boost his social standing — hip hop head, defiant skater, or entitled prep ("now that is not cool," he quickly surmises of the third). By the end of the 30-second advert, he still has not chosen an identity, but Coca Cola assures us that he can at least give his mind a rest by selecting the one reliably cool drink, Sprite.

When this commercial aired, countless corporations were already clamoring to co-opt street culture as a way to gain street credibility and reach new markets. In the decade prior, companies such as Philips, Atari, McDonald's, Hershey's, and Mountain Dew aired hip hop themed advertisements, which featured breakdancers popping and locking to sell everything from egg sandwiches to chiropractic services. Following the success of Jane Fonda's at-home workout videos, many companies also tried selling breakdancing videos to teach people how they can top rock, windmill, flare, float, and freeze. By the mid-90s, breakdancing was so thoroughly co-opted by the Suits, it was considered uncool in the streets, and a new dance movement emerged called freestyling.

It was also around this time when streetwear became legitimized as a fashion market. To be sure, street and youth culture have long existed. Since the end of the Second World War, young people in Britain and the United States have expressed themselves as beats, beatniks, bobby soxers, modernists, mods, hippies, bohemians, surfers, skaters, punks, and rockers. During mid-1940s Britain, ex-Guards officers, many of them gay, ordered fanciful Edwardian suits from their Savile Row tailors as a reaction to demob dreariness. These suits were defined by their long, flared skirt, turnback cuffs, and tight, drainpipe trousers. At the time, this New Edwardian style was fashionable in posh gay circles, having been championed by society photographer Cecil Beaton and the dandy couturier Bunny Roger. Savile Row tailors were all too happy to promote the look, as doing so helped fill their ledgers with orders.

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How to Choose Better Shoes

In the last ten years, the internet has exploded with innumerable sources for high-end shoes. What used to be a small market of Goodyear welted footwear has become an electronic bazaar with virtual stalls from around the world. In the past, if you wanted a pair of good shoes, you had your pick of two American brands, a handful of Northampton makers, and some Continental labels that were hard to source. Today, dozens of specialized dealers offer MTO options, adjusted lasts, and handwelted shoes made in the Austro-Hungarian tradition.

When shopping for shoes in this environment, it can be easy to get sucked into the endless number of options, especially when you’re scrolling through Instagram accounts and dedicated shoe blogs for inspiration. The photos that catch our eye tend to be of shoes that are sleek, interesting, and creatively designed. So people pause on photos of shapely oxfords in gleaming museum calf leathers, two-toned button boots, and chukkas in jewel tones such as sapphire blue and ruby red. And since footwear blogs tend to be so singularly focused on shoes — the leather types, construction techniques, and historical origins of some style — it’s also easy to find yourself thinking about shoes as standalone objects, disconnected from a wardrobe and be to be collected like Pokémon. I found myself doing this when I first got into fountain pens. The more I learned about filling systems and specialized nibs, the more I wanted certain pens, even though my time would have been better spent practicing my handwriting with the pens I already own.

Such internet-driven shoe shopping doesn’t always lead to good results in a wardrobe. In classic men’s dress, the cynosure of an outfit is typically the triangular area formed by a jacket, shirt, and tie. When done well, this area should lead a viewer’s eye upwards toward the space that deserves the most attention, your face. This is why it can be hard to wear patterned trousers or shoes in unusual colors: they draw the eye downwards. But when shopping online, we tend to be drawn to shoes that catch our eye, which is the opposite of what you want in an outfit. This doesn’t mean you have to get the most boring shoes possible (“They are not cheap; they are also an investment,” Hardy Amies wrote in The Englishman’s Suit. “So design is of the plainest”). Dreadfully boring shoes can sometimes signal a kind of conservatism that suggests you’re too self-conscious and afraid to have a point of view. Instead, get something that complements the rest of your wardrobe and builds towards a style you want to project. Here are three friendly suggestions on how to shop for better shoes.

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Things I’m Excited to Wear This Fall

A few months after the world shut down this past spring, Cathy Horyn of The Cut interviewed Raf Simons about what he thought of fashion's possible future. Simons, who's known in fashion circles for introducing a generation of men to the skinny black suit, was sitting in his apartment in Antwerp at the time while wearing elasticated easy pants and a hoodie. He ruminated on what fashion might look like after this pandemic. "'I think there must be a bunch of people out there, when they start thinking about fashion, who don't want to be reminded of the shitty time they had at home in the last five months. But —' He hesitated. 'It's just so personal. I have no clue. [...] honestly, I haven't worn a piece of fashion in months.'"

That's mostly the feeling I get when I think about fashion nowadays. But recently, I've been enjoying Mark Cho's new YouTube series, titled "Dress to Ingest." In a series of relaxing videos that run between five and ten minutes, Mark sits down with various Hong Kong restaurateurs to talk about their signature dishes. The videos are meant to give people some context on where they can wear tailored clothing, here being at restaurants. "They say you don't appreciate it until it's gone," Mark tells me. "Tailoring is often misunderstood only as a 'formal' option, but there's a difference between 'formal' and 'dressed up.' 'Formal' is serious and somber. 'Dressed up' is simply being invested in your appearance for your benefit and others around you. There has always been something precious about breaking bread with friends and family. Given how seldom we see each other now, why not give these rare occasions the celebration they deserve?" 

I don't wear tailored clothing as much as I used to, given that I mostly spend my days at home. But I've tried to make an effort to wear nicer clothes when I can -- a sport coat for short walks around the neighborhood, better flannel shirts even when I'm at home, a nicer pair of pants that I used to reserve for going to the city. "Outside" clothes help break up what's become a very monotonous life at home. Plus, on the few occasions when I can safely meet with friends, I've taken the opportunities to "dress up" more than I used to. The future of fashion is still uncertain, and yet, clothes continue to be one of our small comforts. In that spirit, here are eleven things I'm excited to wear this season. 

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5 Other New Brands I’m Watching

Fashion is often criticized for its creative destruction. Trends are constantly coming and going; new brands are always emerging. What some see as a pointless field, I see as a subject where there's always something new, something interesting, and something different to talk about. For the past few years, I've been doing annual roundups about new brands I'm watching. To be sure, not all of them are actually new -- some have been around for a while. But they're new to me and, hopefully, you. This year, I have so many brands on my list that I decided to break this post into two parts. The first part was published last week. This is part two. 


If you've seen the 1948 Italian neorealist drama Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, sometimes mistranslated as The Bicycle Thief), you'll know that post-war Italy was not always the carefree European paradise we imagine today. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the country's economy was in tatters. Allied forces had bombed the country for years until the German Army surrendered in May of 1945, leaving Italy's manufacturing and transportation infrastructures in the rubble. Yet, it was only about a decade later when the Italian economy rebounded — so much so that economists call the period from 1958 until 1963 the "Italian Economic Miracle" (or what Italians call "Miracolo"). This period transformed Italy from a poor, mostly rural economy into a global industrial power. It also propelled Italian fashion onto the world stage.

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5 New Brands I’m Watching

In an interview with The Telegraph, Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons once described fashion as being an “ever-moving feast.” I find that the quick-paced nature of fashion -- where things are constantly being created and destroyed -- makes the field endlessly interesting. There’s always something new, something different, something to talk about. For the past few years, I've been doing annual roundups on new brands I find to be interesting. To be sure, not all of them are new -- many have been around for years -- but they're new to me. This year, there are so many brands on the list, I'm splitting the post into two parts. Here's part one, with part two coming later this week. 


With a camera in her hand and a translator by her side, Dechen Yeshi arrived at the Amdo region of the Tibetan plateau in 2004. She came partly to explore her family's history on her father's side, a Tibetan academic who once served as a Minister to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She also came at the behest of her mother, Kim Yeshi, a French-American anthropologist who co-founded the Norbulingka Institute, a Tibetan cultural center based near Dharmsala, India. Kim has always been fascinated by textiles, and long believed that yak wool could be a source of income for Tibetan families. So she sent her daughter Deschen to investigate.

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