A Fine Man Once Said:

"Part of the 10 million I spent on gambling, part of it on booze, and part of it on women. The rest I spent foolishly."

- George Raft

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Art of Thrifting

The Uptown Dandy's Current #1 Thrift Shop Steal
Edward Green for M. Bardelli, Cashmere Cotton & Silk - UK 8.5F Last 202

With so many potentially promising targets, thrifting in New York City requires preparation and focus.

Beginners should start by identifying shops that bring a steady supply of items suit your fancy. To do this, focus in on specific neighborhoods. Thrift shops in Harlem just wont have the same of inventory as a shop in Chelsea, Carnegie Hill, or Brooklyn Heights. For the budget-minded, focus on shops that aren't aware of the high quality items that they have on hand. If you've found a shop that charges top dollar for "high-end" labels such as Giorgio Armani, Prada, or Burberry, while the Kiton or Borrelli sportscoats hang forlornly in the mens clothing section for 50% off of the $16.00 price tag, then that shop should be moved to the top of your thrift shop checklist.

Once inside the shop, be sure to thoroughly scour the premises  - clothes racks are sometimes disorganized, so you dont want to miss out on the deal of the century because you didnt take the time to skim through the Mens XXL wear. Also, if you have the time and inclination, always be on the lookout for hidden gems that might not fit you but can be easily re-sold on eBay or Craigslist to fund additional clothing purchases of items that do fit you (yes, one of the first steps toward recovery is admitting that you do, in fact, have a problem).

Ultimately, the "rush" of thrifting comes from that moment when you realize that you've come across the deal of the century (or the week, depending on your thrifting schedule). As previously noted, part of the thrill comes from knowing that you've pulled one over on the shop's management. Sadly (or happily, depending upon your point of view on these matters), the addictive feeling of euphoria will not dissipate as your sartorial triumphs pile up like Christmas cards on the mantelpiece.

Hopefully, the joys of thrifting will find a permanent place in your heart, even as the item in your closet designated  "#1 thrift find" changes from time to time. As it stands right now, my current "#1 steal" are my Edward Green Cadogans (shown above) rebranded for M. Bardelli Cashmere Cotton & Silk - almost new, $24.99.

To Recap:

1. Identify your target neighborhood. Zero in on shops located in the higher-priced zip codes. Some will price their goods accurately, but some won't.

2. Identify your target thrift shops. You'll find out pretty quickly which shops don't know Brioni from macaroni.

3. Plot your plan of attack - maximize efficiency by utilizing mass transit to hit multiple shops within walking distance or along the same bus route or subway line.

4. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Scour the shop from top to bottom - leave no shirt unturned, but skip the Prada or Dolce & Gabbana  - that will always be overpriced. Go for the custom Martin Greenfield suit that's priced at $5.00 because the FIT grad student in charge of pricing never heard of the guy.

5. See the big picture. Don't be afraid to buy the covert coat made on Savile Row, even if it doesn't work for you because its 3 sizes too big. Make the purchase, re-list the item on eBay, and turn the cash into an item that will work for you. There's nothing more American than the random eBay flip every now and then.

Happy Hunting!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Fedora - An Integral Part of "The Outfit?"

Vintage 1960s Fedora by James Lock & Co. for Brooks Brothers

While we're still on the subject of endangered sartorial species, various indigenous strains of the American Male's head wear have been reported to be on the verge of extinction for going on 50 years now. Some historians have traced the origins of the hat's demise to that cold and wintry day in January of 1961 when President-elect John F. Kennedy chose to brave the elements sans top hat, derby, or fedora for his swearing-in ceremony.

Yes, hard as it is to believe, but once upon a time the broad-brimmed hat, and not the baseball cap, was the head wear of choice for the discerning American man. No, really, I've done some minor sleuthing and it appears to be true. Furthermore, how one wore the hat  provided some insight into the character and attitude of the wearer. This idea was touched upon in a recent episode of the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire when the writers emphasized Al Capone's evolution from a merry prankster and generally irresponsible ne'er-do-well within the Torrio organization to a more serious-minded, focused vice-lord by highlighting Scarface Al's switch from the 8-piece pie cap, or newsboy, to the more staid and refined fedora (another example that comes to mind is the scene in The Big Sleep when Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlowe goes undercover into Geiger's "bookstore" front as a collector of rare book editions, primarily by taking his tie off, leaving his collar buttoned, and turning the brim of his hat up all the way around).

Nevertheless, Capone must have retained some of the more flamboyant aspects of his personality when he took control of Torrio's South Side gang (immortalized  in the annals of crime as the Chicago "Outfit"), as evidenced by this photo taken of Chicago furniture salesman "Al Brown":

As you can see, the brim is upturned on only one side while the hat is tilted rakishly toward Capone's left eye. The whole thing exudes a devil-may-care, almost swashbuckling effect that is further hinted at by the trace of a smirk darting across Capone's face. But it all comes back to the flippant swagger in the snap of the brim and the tilt of the hat - it suggests the brash humor of a man who once was quoted as saying that you can get farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.

Having only seen the fedora worn like this in mugshots and police line-ups from Prohibition-era Chicago, I assumed that this must have been the preferred style of the Chicago Outfit for their pearl grey fedoras. Recently, however, I came across a few photos of that suave and debonair leading man from the Golden Age of Hollywood, William Powell, known for his dapper turns in such films as The Thin Man and Manhattan Melodrama. (never has a house servant appeared so magnificent in white tie and tails than Powell in My Man Godfrey).

Since there doesn't appear to be any record of Powell having portrayed a gangster during the early 1930s(although he did appear in The Great Gatsby in 1926 and The Hoodlum Saint 20 years later), it seems unlikely that these are publicity stills for a film. More likely, the hat with the brim snapped up to one side was a style worn by all self-styled dandies of the Roaring Twenties, be he racketeer, matinee idol, or some other form of box-office attraction.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"The Shoe With A Memory"

Johnston & Murphy's Handmade 100s

Johnston & Murphy can trace its roots back to the rich tradition of English shoemaking by way of William J. Dudley and his eponymous shoe company which was founded in 1850 in Newark. Dudley, a European immigrant and master craftsman, was schooled in the classic British tradition. In 1880, Newark businessman James Johnston joined the company as Dudley's partner. In 1881, founder William Dudley died, and Johnston assumed control of the company under a new name, The James Johnston Company.
In 1884, William A. Murphy, another prominent Newark businessman from a distinguished family was intrigued by the success of Johnston's local shoe company. A partnership was formed, and the company became known as Johnston & Murphy.

Today, most of Johnston & Murphy's offerings are produced off-shore, but there was a time when the company produced footwear that rivaled anything produced by the factories in Northampton, England. While the Aristocraft line produced fine examples of American craftsmanship, it was Johnston & Murphy's Handmade 100s that were worn by men of discerning taste, from American Presidents to members of the Rat Pack.

Discontinued after Johnston & Murphy's US production facilities were closed, here are some pictures of an American classic that has gone the way of the DoDo bird.

The box was lined with red velvet and opens with yellow drawstrings.

Black Wingtip with "Spade" or "Shovel" Soles

Note the semi-Cuban heel, bevelled with a slight fiddleback feel to the waist.
You just don't see bevelled waists on American-made shoes today - Alden of New England is probably the last of the premier American shoe-makers and I don't think I've ever seen any kind of waist suppression on any of their models.

The inner heel lining has the J&M Aristocraft label with "HAND-MADE" stamped underneath.

Light Brown Wingtip

I am an admitted broguing addict but the medallion here is out of this world.

Dark Brown Wingtip

These were actually stamped as factory seconds, although I never could tell what was wrong with this pair. Note the channeled soles.

More medallion. I just can't get enough. Sorry - moving on.

I'd love to see other Handmades that are floating around out there. If you've managed to corral a pair or just snapped a quick pic with your phone as one went running by, feel free to post a pic or send an email - I'm sure there are others out there!

Edit 3/10/11: Someone asked what a bevelled waist is and I apologize for not clarifying in the post. The waist is the area where the sole narrows out before the heel. A bevelled waist will be much narrower and will fit very closely to the upper of the shoe - when done well, you should not be able to see the top of the sole or any stitching. The sides will be angled inward rather than straight down or perpendicular to the ground. A "square" waist will basically look the same as the rest of the shoe.