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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Uptown Dandy in The Rake

On sale now, the September issue of The Rake includes, among its usual array of excellent men's style pieces, an article on that lost sartorial icon, George Raft, that it was a pleasure to contribute.

You can view the original posts on George Raft at An Uptown Dandy here and here.

"In an era when America idolized its movie stars and romanticized its racketeers,
rakish George Raft set the sartorial standard for Tinseltown and the Underworld. . ."


Monday, September 26, 2011

American Tradaturra? Rogers Peet

          Italian sprezzatura manifests itself in many ways - most of which I end up thinking can be catalogued as breaking "style" rules for no other reason but to do something different. In the end, some things work, some things don't, but one can respect the attempt to try to something new.

         With the vibrant colors and patterns of Luca Rubinacci's wonderful overcoats and jackets in mind, I set out in search of something for myself. I'm probably just a wee bit more conservative than Mr. Rubinacci, so while I knew that I would like something with a multitude of colors, I knew that I would most likely end up with something that Mr. Rubinacci would probably never be caught dead in. Since I also enjoy thrifting, I set out one Saturday in New York City to make the rounds. There are about 10-15 thrift shops on my route, so I usually end up seeing something that catches my eye for the fall.

          The thrifting gods were smiling down upon me when I came across this immaculate raglan overcoat in absolutely pristine condition.

          In addition to having a lovely mutli-hued houndstooth pattern, the raglan played up to my love of New York, as the coat was manufactured by that illustrious purveyor of classic American menswear, Rogers Peet.

          Founded in lower Manhattan in 1874, the company made its name selling men's apparel and at its peak, the company had 12 locations in the New York area.

Rogers Peet
16 East 42 Street: If you keep your eyes open,
you can catch a glimpse of the once mighty Rogers, Peet empire.

          In its early years Rogers, Peet introduced several innovations into the men's wear business: they attached tags to garments giving fabric composition, they marked garments with price tags (the established practice was to haggle), they offered customers their money back if not satisfied, and they used illustrations of specific merchandise in their advertising. They also used cartoons in their advertisements, a rarity at the time.

Partially-lined: Perfect for the Fall.

Large leather-wrapped buttons - a bit worn, but these can be replaced relatively easily.

I really love the colorful hue to the houndstooth pattern. Whether it adds some American sprezzatura to my work and casual outfits ensembles is another question.

Can't wait for the Fall!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

E. Marinella

I recently stumbled across a thrift store with a supply of E. Marinella ties that seems to flow into the shop at about a steady trickle. The Naples tie-maker has been spoken of in almost reverential tones on style blogs such as A Suitable Wardrobe and Permanent Style, both to praise the craftmanship as well as the wonderful silks and patterns available. Based on my limited experience, I'd have to agree with those assessments: the colors are rich and vibrant while the patterns are elegantly staid, in my opinion. One could argue that these works of art represent a bargain at the retail price of $195.00, but at $29.00, its an absolute steal.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Next Stop: City Hall Station

The long since abandoned City Hall subway stop.

A brief departure from my normal nocturnal ramblings: The next time you find yourself downtown with some time to kill, hop on the downtown 6 train and take it to the last stop on the line, the Brookyn Bridge station. But instead of getting off, stay on the train as it loops around to the uptown track to begin its trip back north through East Harlem and the Bronx. Keep your eyes open as you pass through the long since abandoned City Hall stop, which is one of the city's lost forgotten treasures. Originally built in 1904, the station was closed in 1945, primarily because not too many people used the station and the loop created an unsafe gap when the train stopped at the station platform.

Notwithstanding the obvious safety issues that would come with having a train station directly under City Hall, one can only hope that the station is one day put back into active service.

Photos by John-Paul Palescandolo and Eric Kazmirek.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Farewell to the First Golden Age: Of Sample Sales and Feeding Frenzies

Holland & Holland's Shotgun Shell-motif lining: A true classic

I know that it is quite common on the various style fora for members to bemoan the demise of everything from traditional tailoring techniques to classic haberdashers. I found myself in the men's shoe section at the Barney's Warehouse sale just last week engaging in this very same behavior. Looking at the truly pitiful offerings in my size, I could not help but think back to the days when the racks were filled with a decent variety of benchgrade and handgrade shoes from Crockett & Jones. Indeed, my first pair of suede shoes was a pair of benchgrade C&J Conistons in dark brown for under $200. At later sales, I was fortunate to find handgrade suede chukkas and even a pair of Cliffords in antique chestnut at under $300 per pair.

While the proliferation of sample sales continues unabated today, the truly mind-boggling sample sales and online feeding frenzies of the pre-Financial Crisis 2000s appear to be gone, if not forgotten. With the last of the Paul Stuart sample sales occurring in 2009 (and that later iteration a sickly step-child of the 2005-2006 incarnations, I think it is safe to say that the first Golden Age (2002-2008) has come and gone.

My first introduction to an absolute madhouse of a sample sale were the Holland & Holland employee sales. I still have quite a few baby alpaca sweaters, canvas rain coats, and silk v-neck sweaters, all drastically reduced from H&H's stratospheric retail prices and purchased for under $50 per item. Most of the items have been worn fairly regularly for years now and have attained a nice worn-in look. Not the African safari worn-in look, just the urban-jungle worn-in look.

Holland & Holland Norfolk Shooting Jacket.
A heavy jacket with an action back, I believe the wool is coated in teflon.
One button on the sleeve cuff, made in England.
I believe the retail price at the time was over $1000. Sale price: $50.

Holland & Holland was the start of a stretch of some of the greatest sales that I've ever come across. I've already written to some extent on the Paul Stuart sales, but they were truly an event without parallel for a young dandy interested in well-made British shoes on a budget. One is hard-pressed to find the words to describe that moment when, after waiting in line for 50 minutes, you are given permission to enter the sale - you take a few steps into the breach . . . only to be met by row upon row of discounted Grenson Masterpieces made for Paul Stuart's Stuart's Choice line.

Spoils from the Paul Stuart sale.
Grenson Masterpieces for Stuart's Choice line. $250 from $698 retail price.

If one thought that Paul Stuart would remain the gold-standard for decades to come, one was pleasantly surprised to find how quickly Asprey came along to challenge for the title "Greatest Warehouse Sale Ever." As I look through the spoils, it is still too difficult to decide which purchase was best: the 100% cashmere overcoat sample with patch pockets and turn back-cuff with faux cuff-links (I will get around to taking pictures of this, my favorite overcoat, sometime soon), or the Edward Green tasseled loafers in mink suede for under $200? Oh, decisions, decisions.

Edward Green mink suede tasseled loafers for Asprey. $185.

Mind you, these were just the warehouse sales. The on-line feeding frenzies were even more exciting because a certain amount of faith is required to purchase sight unseen based on the reports of others. My first introduction to these types internet stampedes was via the now legendary Bennie's Grenson Masterpiece sales. I'm not ashamed to say that I purchased my first pair of Northampton shoes via Bennies. The next frenzy, around 2005 or 2006, was the equally legendary Crockett & Jones for Tom James close-out. A pair of handgrade C&Js for $150 each? I'll take two pairs of semi-brogue Bartons, one in black and one in antique chestnut, please. To this day, aside from one other pair of Johnston & Murphy Handmade 100s, my only pair of black shoes (I'll take pictures soon, I promise).

The on-line feeding frenzy reached its apex, in my opinion, with the great Ralph Lauren Woodbury Commons Purple Label snatch and grab of 2006 (or was it 2007?). Cashmere blazers for $300. Cashmere blend, custom fit 3-piece suits from $4000 to $300, sight unseen? Let's take a chance!

RLPL cashmere/wool blend 3-piece suit in charcoal grey.
Deciding to purchase based on a sales associate's description over the phone, it was worth the gamble.

Unfortunately, the good times had to come to an end. Gradually, the magnificent warehouse sales disappeared. Holland & Holland closed their 57th street shop - Turnbull & Asser now resides at that location. Asprey also closed up shop on 5th Avenue, moving to a smaller location. Paul Stuart kept the warehouse sale around a bit longer than some of the others, but it too has not been seen in many seasons. The online frenzies are a thing of the past as well - spoken about in hushed, reverential tones by the old-timers and mentioned with just a slight air of disbelief by the next generation.

Some of the new sales are very good, but none of them approach the jaw-dropping levels of yesteryear. An honorable mention goes to Brunello Cucinelli's spring sale, which dropped to 80% off all items on the last few days. The normally outrageously priced BC cashmere v-necks and zip-ups were reduced from $860 to $160 or $170. A great deal, to be sure, but . . .

Spoils from the Brunello Cucinelli Sample Sale.

In the meantime, we'll wait patiently for the second Golden Age, or the first Silver Age, or whatever it may be called, to begin again. See you on the line.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Big Thriftin' Up In Essex County

Grenson Masterpieces for Paul Stuart's "Stuart's Choice" line.

Having staked out some promising thrifts, consignment shops and outlet stores for some time now in New Jersey, I'm happy to say that my dogged relentlessness has reaped excellent dividends so far. On the other hand, I'm sad to say that I'm becoming convinced that Essex County is where old dandies are put out to pasture.

How else does one explain a pristine - and when I say pristine, I mean the shoe trees still had retail tags attached - pair of Grenson Masterpiece wingtip bluchers in antique chestnut, made for Paul Stuart's "Stuart's Choice" line? Who donates such a thing? Well, whoever he or she may be, you are a better man (or woman) than I am, Gunga Din.

Channeled soles that don't even show signs of shopwear.

I can only assume someone passed away or there was an unsupervised closet-cleaning that went horribly awry.

Nevertheless, after nonchalantly paying the $40 (trees included), I masked my excitement as best I could and sauntered out of the shop at a deceptively casual pace.

Unfortunately, I already have an identical pair of Grenson Masterpieces for the Stuart's Choice line in a dark brown, and this pair was just a bit too snug. Which is the only reason these shoes did not move to the top of my personal "best thrift shop finds ever" list.

Anyway, happy hunting!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Strange Happenings at Marshalls

A classic business conservative fabric from Brooks Brothers -
a mid-grey with a very fine blue/white pinstripe.

I generally make it a habit to drop into my local Marshall's every now and again - the inventory is so unpredictable that you really never know what you're going to stumble across. For the most part, the men's section will consist of fused suits made in a variety of third world countries, with shirts and ties to match.

Occasionally, however, you can find some real bargains. Most recently, I've come across Polo Ralph Lauren suits made in Italy by Corneliani, suits from Corneliani's own label, and shoes by Church's, Santoni, and Tod's.

On my last trip, the men's suit racks were filled with what appeared to be staple conservative business suits in solid navy blue and grey pinstripes from Brooks Brothers.

A Brooks Bros. charcoal grey two-button pinstripe suit with subtle blue and white pinstripe.

I took a closer look to see what line the suit was made for, and this is where I became a little confused. Generally speaking, Brooks Bros. makes suits for its regular or basic line with a blue label inside the chest, with gold stitching around the tag. The next level up from there is the 1818 line with the difference in the cut of the suit being readily ascertainable by the model tags (i.e Madison, Fitzgerald). Finally, at the top tier of suits for Brook Brothers, you have the Golden Fleece - these suits are equally identifiable by a few features: the tags will indicate that the suit is hand tailored in the USA and the suit jacket is fully canvassed.

In this case, the suits at Brooks Bros. had the "hand tailoring" and "full canvas" tags.

Hand tailored in the USA of Imported Fabric


The "full canvas" tag on the inside of the Brooks Bros. suit.

Having perused the Golden Fleece suits at Brooks' flagship store, it was simple enough to confirm that these were in fact Golden Fleece suits. However, what confused me was that the Golden Fleece label on the inner suit lining appeared to have been removed (you could actually see where the original tag was stitched into the suit lining before it was replaced with the "regular" line blue tag.

After confirming with Brooks Bros. that these are in fact Golden Fleece suits (the Brooks people were never able to come up with an explanation as to why the Golden Fleece tags had been removed and replaced), I basically came away with an $1,800 suit for about $200. Of course, there are legions of Brooks Bros. detractors who will tell you about the poor quality of the offerings from the Brothers Brooks, and while this may or may not be true, most people will tell you that the Golden Fleece suits are of a high quality (at one time  or another, the Golden Fleece line has been made by Isaia and Martin Greenfield - I believe this particular suit was made in the Southwick factories here in the USA). Regardless, one would be hard-pressed to find a brand new, fully canvassed suit anywhere for under $200.

Note: It should be pointed out that there might be something to the negative comments about the fit of a Brooks Bros. suit. I'm normally a 42 Regular but the size information inside the chest pocket lists this suit as a 40 Regular; nevertheless, in my opinion, the suit fits me very well (for an off-the-rack suit - it will require minimal tailoring although, despite the smaller size, the jacket will probably still need to be taken in just a bit.

So, if you're interested in Golden Fleece suits in traditional "staple" colors like navy and charcoal grey, pop your head into the local Marshall's. If the 1818 line is more your speed, there were a few of those models mixed into the racks as well - however, in keeping with the befuddling nature that is Marshall's, those suits are actually listed at $350.

Perhaps someone else will have better luck figuring out the whole thing out than I did.