Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Sport Coat as Old Friend

Here's the coat I got from Silver

A new sport coat I ordered from Ben Silver arrived yesterday. I was impressed for several reasons:

  • It does not look new.
  • It came when they said it would.
  • Cashmere is a wonderful material.
  • Soft, yes, but I never knew how light.
  • They made it up for me in just my size.
  • It was in essence exactly as pictured.

Needless to say, this is not my usual experience with mail order.

Somehow the right sport coat conjures up images of old money lazing around the yacht club, chatting idly, clipping coupons. Fitzgerald would approve. So would Peterman. You know what I mean.

When this jacket arrived I was reminded that I owned one very similar to it back in my teens. It was not cashmere, however. I have never owned a cashmere coat, and, now having felt the thing, I'm wondering how I ever got along without it. As exclaimed upon above, it is exceedingly light, and to this old gent who sweats easily, that is a most welcome development.

As an article of clothing, the sport coat is just right. Not too hot and not too cold. I don't know if it's the tweed or the professorial look or the elbow patches in tawny suede, but it conjures up the look that says I don't care too much. Some may call it "sprezzatura," but to me, isn't that what we're really after? That carefully-studied, unstudied look. Somebody asks you about it and you say, "what, this old thing?"

I've been buying a lot of suits lately, probably preparing for occasions of state or job interviews. But, the fact of the matter is, I don't get dressed up that often. Business casual, as much as I frown upon it, has fully taken root here in my household in the Midwest. And I am all about comfort. Also, versatility. I know I can dress this jacket up or down, wear it with a tie and a spread colored shirt as pictured above or dress it down with no tie and just a button down.

Jimmy Stewart - love the scarf

J. Press used to make a sport coat just like the scarf in the above photo. It was a handsome coat, the colors, as I remember them were a deep mulberry wine, and the darker color, as it appears above, was navy blue. I have looked and looked on the internet and have been unable to find it. This scarf definitely captures it. The photo below from 1954 is a close cousin:

Cashmere, custom tailored by J. Press, SI, Oct. 25, 1954.

Final image, from The Consortium of Gentlemen Farmers, a blog which seems to have stopped publishing. Too bad. Doesn't the name just say it all?

Love the jacket, dislike the floppy bow tie. Part of a suit. Ralph Lauren.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Old Shoes Are The Best Shoes

Well turned-out deer in the headlights

To me there is something very comforting in these images of Prince Charles' shoes. Here is a man whose clothing allowance is probably unlimited, and yet he prefers relatively simple oxfords, 40 years old in some cases. Notice also that they are highly polished and well taken care of (patched, yes, but undoubtedly well soled and well heeled). It reminds me of the dress code adopted by a well known New Hampshire boarding school at the time it went co-ed and abandoned coat-and-tie. From there on out, its only concern was "neat, clean & in good repair." We also have an interesting opportunity here to observe various amounts of break in Charles' trousers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Savile Row - St. Louis Style

Here in Saint Louis we have a thin crust pizza, made in the round but cut into small squares. One of my daughters swears by the stuff. I, myself, being a transplanted Easterner, prefer my pizza a little earthier and favor the New York version. Nonetheless, there are a lot of things that get done in a special way here in St. Louis, and those native to the area take special delight in referring to "St. Louis Style".

Such is the case with tailored clothing at Savile Row. Owned and operated by David Shockley, and located in the heart of Ladue, St. Louis' toniest address, Savile Row offers the discerning customer a sometimes overwhelming array of choices, and as David likes to say, "they're all in your size." Ably assisted by Wendy Jones and Mandy Boncek, you will be welcomed into a world of style, sophistication and first class service.

David Shockley

I had known about this store for roughly ten years before I ever ventured in. Prior to that time I was content with ready-made goods from Brooks Brothers, Joseph Banks, Polo Ralph Lauren, or things that I had found at the Andover Shop and J. Press on yearly pilgrimages back to Boston. I first made it through David's doorway about a year ago, and since that time, let's just say that I have purchased enough clothing to render an opinion.

My first suit with David, a bold chalk stripe

My first experience with working buttonholes

This is how I feel when I wear my new suit.

Last week I went in to pick up a couple of shirts that were ready. Originally there were three, but one was retained so we could re-tweak the pattern a bit. Comparing these shirts to those I have purchased from Hemrajani, I would offer the following:
  • These shirts are made in the U.S.A.
  • Selection of fabrics is wonderful (and, of course, you can actually see and touch them)
  • Turnaround time is quick - usually 4 weeks
  • Cost is higher than Hemrajani
  • And then there is the human factor, someone at the store to talk with, and discuss what you'd like to have done differently the next time.

Perhaps I should start using "TWH" instead of my own initials

My experience at Savile Row has been overwhelmingly positive, the clothing and service both superb, the turnaround time relatively quick. Prices range from moderate to high, but you get what you pay for. Remember, this is clothing that is built to last a lifetime. If you take the cost of what you're purchasing and divide it out over the twenty years or so that you are likely to wear it, you'll soon find it to be much less expensive than the throwaway garments you get at the mall. Where else can you select exactly what you want, and specify the details? Remember also what Oscar Wilde said: "the cynic is someone who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing."

Go see David. Trust me when I say you will not be disappointed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"If you don't mind, it don't matter"

The great Satchel Paige used to say, "age is a question of mind over matter: if you don't mind, it don't matter." A lot of things in life are like that. It's a question of picking your battles, not taking the bait, and not engaging the enemy. If you don't mind, it don't matter. Try using it as your mantra as you go through your day. Let me know if it helps.

For another take on the same issue, take a look at Toad's post Resolutions (NMP). And if you like Toad and Maximinimus, as I do, have a look at this post: If Maxminmus Had a Son for an amusing chuckle.

Keep your chin up and keep smiling, I'm tapdancing as fast as I can.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pulling Weeds

We live in an old house, built in 1906, shortly after the World's Fair. It is a lovely home in a fine neighborhood with winding, tree-lined streets. The house, like its occupants, has tons of charm, private restful spaces, secret hiding places, even an abandoned stairway. Imagine the Swiss Family Robinsons' tree house. That's all to the good. On the downsdide, houses of this vintage have limited closet space.

While Mrs. W was away this past weekend, I began cleaning out one of three small closets I use. I don't want to give the wrong impression. The job is far from over, but I made a small dent, and along the way I was reminded that cleaning is good for the soul.

Fibber McGee's got nothin' on me

My reasons for undertaking this mission were two-fold. First, given that this is a walk-in closet, you have to be able to walk into it, in order to get to things at the back. Second, it's nice to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you are like me, you probably have a lot of stuff that doesn't fit or else never looked good in the first place. You may also do a lot of experimenting, as I do. Experimenting is all fine and good, but at some point, it's time to weed the garden. Closets can only hold so much.

Most of what needs to get tossed falls loosely into these three categories:
  • Too old, finally worn out, hate to give them up, but . . .
  • Doesn't fit.
  • Purchased on a whim, wildly experimental, looks terrible, hate it, never worn.
Once you eliminate the offenders, the remaining items can shine. What a nice feeling it is to walk into a closet and know that everything you are looking at fits you. Also that the remaining items are there for a reason, having survived at least one round of serious culling. I don't know about you, but I don't have time in the morning to fuss and rustle with things that don't fit. Mrs. W. is a big proponent of "a place for everything and everything in its place". Searching for lost items, my kids learned early on that if it wasn't nailed down, mommy probably gave it away to Goodwill.

As Mies van der Rohe said, "Less is more."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mr. Hemrajani's Shirts - MyTailor.com

As Toad was kind enough to comment on my comment, fellow Missourian and all, it makes me realize there's one or two of you out there listening.

Picking up where we left off, I ordered my first shirt from Mr. Hemrajani in April of '09. I ordered just one -- they'll let you do that on your first order. I ordered it using what I'll call their "best guess" method. I gave them a neck size, a sleeve length, and filled out a series of check boxes concerning body type. They will also let you send them a well-fitting shirt & copy it. Looking back with my 20/20 hindsight, this is the method I would recommend if you happen to own such a shirt.

Prior to that shirt's arrival, I got measured by one of their traveling salesmen, Ken Keswani, and brought with me two shirts that fit fairly well. We talked about the two shirts, how they fit, and what things I'd like to see done differently. Most of my complaints had to do with the fact that Brooks Brothers shirts, for example, are so balloon-like once you get up to my neck size.

Ultimately we decided upon an un-tapered shirt. The formula went like this: x + 8" (x being my nominal waist size). That's the number we used for all three measurements, chest, stomach & hips. Ken measured my neck and sleeve length, but I was not surprised by the results.

Raspberry Candy Stripe

When you are heavy like I am, the length of the shirt is important so that it will stay tucked in. The addition of an eighth button (below the navel) is also a must.

I'll say this for the shirts I have gotten from Hemrajani, once we got the basic pattern down, they fit very well. Since that time, ordering shirts online has been a fairly painless process. It's just a matter of allocating the funds, picking the fabrics, choosing the details, and waiting for the shirts to clear customs. They are made in Hong Kong. Sometimes the wait can be a little painful. A wait time of eight or nine weeks is not unheard of. I have learned to instruct them in the comment box that "I NEED THESE SHIRTS IN 4 WEEKS." I usually get them in five.

Micro Check, Sky Blue

Framed Bold Stripe, no pocket

Pink Oxford Cloth (Color spot-on)

I will also share the recipe I have used for replicating the Brooks Brothers Polo Buttondown collar:
  • 3-3/8" Point Length
  • 3/4" Tie Space
  • 3-1/2" Spread
I have been quite pleased with the results produced.

N.B.: request the mother of pearl buttons. I have not been charged extra for them, and I have learned they hold up much better at commercial laundries.

  • Nice price (basics can be had for less than $100/shirt)
  • Excellent fit
  • Tremendous selection of fabrics
  • Easy-to-navigate web site
  • Wish list is a great feature
  • Long wait time
  • Can't feel the fabrics
  • Sometimes I am fooled by the scale of a check or a stripe

Friday, November 5, 2010

Great Day to be Alive

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and since I promised someone far away some images from home, I thought I'd take a day off from the usual grind and just kind of smell the roses.

The kitty-girls curling snugly.

A truly glorious time of year.

That's all there is. There isn't any more. Except to express my love for my family, especially those far from home, and let them know they fill my heart with joy and that I would be nothing without them. It's a great day to be alive.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gatsby's Shirts

Mrs. W. tells me I own too many shirts. She's probably right.

There was a time when I only wore Brooks Brothers all-cotton buttondowns. That was when they still made all-cotton, need-to-be-ironed shirts, and when those shirts still fit me. You see I've put on a little weight since then. And that "no-iron" cotton? Hate the stuff. I find it to be itchy as hell and it makes me sweat!

If I could still buy shirts off the rack at Brooks Brothers, I would. But then I never would have discovered the pleasure and joy of custom.

Probably from Will over at ASW, I discovered Joe Hemrajani at MyTailor,com. I have also had good luck at my local emporium, Savile Row of St. Louis, and I have custom ordered shirts at BB Select. Over the course of the next several days, I will try to elaborate on all three.

No doubt I have the widest body (pun intended) of experience with Hemrajani. No fewer than 25 of his shirts hang in my closet.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Disappearance of the Bass Weejun

I, too bemoan the disappearance of the Bass Weejun. Once considered the entry point to prepdom, they have gone the way of all flesh. Back in the day, it seemed that everyone had a pair in various states of disrepair, running all the way from brand new, to well-polished-though-resoled-several-times, to beat-to-shit (bts) and strapped together with white athletic tape. Some even had a pair in all three states, depending on the haute of the occasion. Sadly, they are gone.

As a teenager, all you really needed to qualify as a prep were three particular pairs of shoes: Bass Weejuns, Sperry Topsiders, and Bean Boots. As for the Weejun, you could wear it almost anywhere, for any occasion, except black tie, in which case the black Gucci horsebit worked nicely. Being a teenager, you got away with a lot of things.

Ever since they went away, I have periodically purchased a pair in the hope that the quality will have returned. Like Charlie Brown hoping that Lucy will hold the football for him, I have been disappointed every time.

About a year ago I became enamored of the Gilman version, and had Zappo's send me two different pair. I'll say this for the Gilman's, they are a good looking facsimile. Upon closer examination, however, there is something wrong with the sole (composition, I think) and the sizing also. The first pair was too short and narrow, the second pair gigantic and ready to slip off my foot at a moment's notice. Alas, and quick as a whistle, the thrifty Mrs W. sent them back to Zappo's. (What great service they offer!)

Next it was the Mark McNairy/Bass collaboration that arrived on my doorstep about two weeks ago (pictured left). I have yet to wear them and wonder if I ever will. They are stiff and narrow, hurt like hell, and look and smell, well, brand new. It seems to me it would take about a year to break them in, and I just don't know if I have that in me. Plus, they cost $290, which is a long way off from the $18 I shelled out for my first pair in May of 1967.

Besides, I have several, perfectly good, perfectly comfortable, Brooks Brothers cordovan loafers, which for all practical purposes have become the new Bass Weejun for me.

Here's another pair (Peal's), very pricey, not cordovan, just found on the Brooks website. I really like the color. Has anyone seen them in the flesh??

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