Seven Things Better Bought Used

It’s sometimes easier to buy new, but there are some things that are pretty much always better bought used. Here’s our list of seven.

  1. Peacoats Every designer in the world has “riffed” on the pea coat, but the original is still the best. The heavy melton wool has protected sailors from the elements on-ship for decades, and it’ll protect you from pretty much anything. Best of all, vintage pea coats are freely available both from local vintage shops and online vendors. I love the ones from the 1940s-1960s, but it’s hard to go wrong. Remember that they’re sized to fit over heavy sweaters, and expect to pay $50-100.
  2. Cufflinks  There was a time when men wore suits, and with them, double-cuff shirts. So just about every man had cufflinks. That time has mostly passed.
    The result is a market glut of links. Go on eBay any day of the week and you’ll find literally thousands of pairs, from costume to fine jewelry… 1970s to 1890s. We prefer double-sided links here at PTO, and you’ll find plenty at any estate jeweler or vintage seller. Try Edwardian eight-carat gold, or enamel from the Art Deco era. Or grab yourself a cheap pair of Swank novelty links from the 1960s. Get some shirt studs while you’re at it. They’ll all be much cheaper on the second-hand market than new.
  3. Formal Wear  Unlike most men’s styles, formal wear has remained largely static since it was codified at the beginning of the 20th century. That means that if you can find a conservatively-styled tuxedo from almost any era, it will be right at home today. The bonus: it’ll probably be better-made than all but the finest new equivalents. With a bit of diligence, you can find a great tuxedo for a hundred dollars or less.
  4. Knock-Around Ties  Once you have a basic wardrobe of ties - a few solids, a few basics - you’ll find yourself wishing for novelty. Unless you’re shopping the highest end of the market, you’ll find plenty of functional ties at your local consignment or thrift stores for pennies on the dollar. Get a sense of the difference between a fine tie and a poor one, and don’t settle for less than decent… but once you’ve done that, go wild. There’s no shame in a necktie wardrobe filled out at $10 each, rather than $100.
  5. Watches A fine watch is a status symbol these days, when most men just wear a thirty-dollar quartz model on their wrist. Luckily, there’s a vintage option for almost any budget. Handsome mechanical watches from lesser-known brands are easily available for $50 or so second-hand. You can buy a beautiful Longines or Hamilton for a hundred or two. Kick it up to five hundred and there’s a pile of gorgeous Omegas within your grasp. And of course if you bump it into the thousands, there are many more choices, almost all for less than new.
    Try paging through the buy-and-sell forums of watch enthusiast communities like WatchUSeek and TimeZone, or visit a reputable jeweler in your town. Heck - if you’re buying something cheap, just take a flier on eBay. No matter what, you’ll get a more distinctive piece at a better price.
  6. Cashmere Sweaters  For a variety of reasons, cashmere’s gone downhill in the last twenty years or so. The good stuff has a smoother, tighter, denser finish… and you’ll only find it second-hand. The good news is that second-hand cashmere knits rarely go for more than $50-100 each. If it’s in good shape (be diligent), it can literally last a lifetime.
  7. Hats Men’s hats have declined precipitously not just in popularity, but also in quality. Low-end hats from the middle of the last century are as good as the high-end hats you’ll buy in a department store today. There are a few fine makers left, mostly making custom hats, but even once-fine brands like Borsalino and Stetson now make mediocre, expensive products. Vintage hats, though, are inexpensive, freely available (another supply/demand thing) and often of very fine quality. Great hats effortlessly hold their shape without being stiff, and feel fine to the hand. Expect to pay between $50 and $200 for something really good.

(Thanks to PTO twitter followers @D_Lippy, @frivmo, @voxsartoria, @platypusjones, @prairie_oysters, @SkySwartout, @HoffM, @TheMikeSwartz, @TheS_P500 and more for your ideas!)

Photos: Peacoat by Resheie54 , Cufflinks Simon James, Tux Stephen Depolo, Watch Guy Sie, Ties Brian Johnson, Cashmere Stolte-Sawa Hat David D

Old Cashmere is Better.
Here’s the honest truth: as cashmere has gone from an exclusive luxury product to a mass-market luxury product, the quality has suffered tremendously. It’s possible to walk into a J. Crew or even a Costco these days and buy a relatively affordable cashmere sweater, but you’ll get what you pay for. Your “investment” will be useless in all too short a time.
Cashmere is soft because it comes from the hairs on the belly of a goat. They’re exceptionally fine, which makes them exceptionally pleasant to the touch. But here’s the catch: some of these hairs are longer than the others.
As we learned in our video with Luciano Barbera, longer fibers are an essential part of a quality fabric. These days, cashmere’s made with much shorter fibers, by inexpert (or uncaring) weavers in China. This has made a formerly dear fiber affordable, but it’s also made it very difficult to find the good stuff. Even the finest cashmere makers have to fight to get anything worth weaving. Many have given up and decided to coast on their reputations.
This is situation is doubly tricky because low-quality cashmere feels so soft in the store. It may even feel softer than the good stuff, in fact. The reason? Short fibers mean more breakage. Broken fibers fluff out of the fabric, making it soft - think of an angora sweater. It’s the same reason that old t-shirts are softer than new ones.
Broken fibers mean softness, but they also mean stretching, pilling and fuzziness. A sweater, in other words, that starts to look worn out immediately, and wears out quickly.
If you can’t afford to buy $800 sweaters from ultra-high-end makers, there is an easy and affordable answer. Buy vintage. Cashmere, and particularly Scottish cashmere, from before the 1990s cashmere boom, is available at your local vintage shop, flea market, and on eBay. The price is usually no more than $50. The quality is uniformly higher, and it will last many, many years if you care for it. In fact, very high-quality cashmere only gets better with age.
Look for cashmere that feels tightly woven, with a solid feeling, rather than a fluffy feeling. The weave should feel dense, heavy and smooth. A thin cashmere sweater should be warm and solid. Hand wash once a year or so, dry flat, and you’ll have a treasure you can enjoy for a decade or more.
(Previously: A Basic Cashmere Wardrobe for Men, A Quick Guide to Quality Cashmere)

Old Cashmere is Better.

Here’s the honest truth: as cashmere has gone from an exclusive luxury product to a mass-market luxury product, the quality has suffered tremendously. It’s possible to walk into a J. Crew or even a Costco these days and buy a relatively affordable cashmere sweater, but you’ll get what you pay for. Your “investment” will be useless in all too short a time.

Cashmere is soft because it comes from the hairs on the belly of a goat. They’re exceptionally fine, which makes them exceptionally pleasant to the touch. But here’s the catch: some of these hairs are longer than the others.

As we learned in our video with Luciano Barbera, longer fibers are an essential part of a quality fabric. These days, cashmere’s made with much shorter fibers, by inexpert (or uncaring) weavers in China. This has made a formerly dear fiber affordable, but it’s also made it very difficult to find the good stuff. Even the finest cashmere makers have to fight to get anything worth weaving. Many have given up and decided to coast on their reputations.

This is situation is doubly tricky because low-quality cashmere feels so soft in the store. It may even feel softer than the good stuff, in fact. The reason? Short fibers mean more breakage. Broken fibers fluff out of the fabric, making it soft - think of an angora sweater. It’s the same reason that old t-shirts are softer than new ones.

Broken fibers mean softness, but they also mean stretching, pilling and fuzziness. A sweater, in other words, that starts to look worn out immediately, and wears out quickly.

If you can’t afford to buy $800 sweaters from ultra-high-end makers, there is an easy and affordable answer. Buy vintage. Cashmere, and particularly Scottish cashmere, from before the 1990s cashmere boom, is available at your local vintage shop, flea market, and on eBay. The price is usually no more than $50. The quality is uniformly higher, and it will last many, many years if you care for it. In fact, very high-quality cashmere only gets better with age.

Look for cashmere that feels tightly woven, with a solid feeling, rather than a fluffy feeling. The weave should feel dense, heavy and smooth. A thin cashmere sweater should be warm and solid. Hand wash once a year or so, dry flat, and you’ll have a treasure you can enjoy for a decade or more.

(Previously: A Basic Cashmere Wardrobe for Men, A Quick Guide to Quality Cashmere)

A Basic Cashmere Wardrobe for Men

It doesn’t get much more versatile than a simple v-neck sweater in a basic, solid color. It doesn’t get much more classic, either. Build yourself a wardrobe of three pieces, and you’ll be set for years.

Above are three of the most basic colors: burgundy, navy and gray. If you wear a lot of monochromatic palettes, or want something to wear out at night, you could add black to that list (though gray is more versatile, and can usually fill in fine for black). Camel can also be a nice choice. These are pieces that go with everything from jeans to a suit, and add sophistication and comfort to every outfit you wear.

I like cashmere for my v-necks. It’s warmer relative to its weight than wool, and of course it’s exceptionally soft, as well. It’s also one of the few fabrics that gets better with age. High-quality cashmere, with reasonably attentive care, can last very nearly forever. I think that this is a wardrobe element that’s essential enough that you should look for the best.

But where do you get the good stuff? I wrote a quick guide to finding quality cashmere, but I’ll summarize (OK, probably expand) here.

There’s plenty of passable cashmere on the market today - far more than ever before. You can buy cashmere sweaters for $80 at Costco, $150 at Lands’ End or $198 at J. Crew. That Lands’ End sweater is decent quality, but it’s still expensive, and it’s not the good stuff. It won’t last, look as nice, or feel as good.

As the cashmere market has exploded over the past fifteen years or so, the breadth of quality available has expanded dramatically. All cashmere is not created equal. Cashmere’s quality depends on the quality of the fiber, the quality of the milling, and the quality of the garment’s construction. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that there’s no difference.

Good cashmere is made from the longest fibers. It is dense, resilient and lightweight (though it may be offered in multiple layers, or plys). The texture should almost approach a cotton jersey. It will also (new) be a little less soft than the cheap stuff. The short fibers in cheap cashmere are loose right from the start, so they feel soft to the touch. They’ll pill and tear. The best cashmere feels smooth as much as it feels soft. Go to a super-fancy store, and touch some Loro Piana branded cashmere, and you’ll get a feeling for what I’m talking about.

Of course, great cashmere has become surpassingly expensive. A Loro Piana cashmere sweater can cost as much as $1500, and one by a less-well-advertised maker like Drumohr can still go for $500 or more. Perhaps you can swing this, in which case more power to you, but for most of us, that’s cost-prohibitive.

There is good news, however. Because good cashmere wears so well, and because almost all cashmere was top-of-the-line until fifteen or so years ago, used is a tremendous option.

For $30-60, you can buy a pristine Scottish cashmere sweater (Scottish cashmere, by the way, is what you want), from a luxury maker. Look for something from the 1980s or earlier, with a smooth, tight hand. It should be made in Scotland, either for a fancy store (Saks, Nordstrom, Brooks, Wilkes, Niemans, that kind of thing) or by one of the big Scottish cashmere brands (Pringle, Drumohr, etc.). Look for something sized by chest size, not S-M-L-XL. Focus on the basic colors we’ve identified above. If it’s pilling, has holes or stains, leave it be.

When you’re shopping, take your time. The perfect piece may not come along right away, but it will come. These are basics, after all.

Once you’ve got your sweater - or sweaters - care for them gently. Hand-wash them only when they really need it (once a year or so). They’ll actually get softer with age. If you wear through the elbows, add patches. If you get a snag, have it rewoven. Take care of them, and they’ll keep you warm and stylish for a healthy chunk of the rest of your life.

J Crew and Loro Piana
J Crew uses Loro Piana cashmere yarn for its sweaters. So what accounts for the difference between $1,000+ Loro Piana sweaters at high end boutiques and the $300 ones at J Crew?
On the one hand, quality manufacturing - the boutique sweaters are made in Italy, J. Crew’s in China. On the other hand, Loro Piana’s need to maintain its luxury brand image. 
Read more in the Wall Street Journal here, and if you want to identify the good stuff yourself, check out Jesse’s article “Looking for Quality Cashmere” here.

J Crew and Loro Piana

J Crew uses Loro Piana cashmere yarn for its sweaters. So what accounts for the difference between $1,000+ Loro Piana sweaters at high end boutiques and the $300 ones at J Crew?

On the one hand, quality manufacturing - the boutique sweaters are made in Italy, J. Crew’s in China. On the other hand, Loro Piana’s need to maintain its luxury brand image. 

Read more in the Wall Street Journal here, and if you want to identify the good stuff yourself, check out Jesse’s article “Looking for Quality Cashmere” here.

The Necktie Series, Part IV: Expanding your collection 

Yesterday, I talked about the bare bones of a minimal tie collection. Today, I’ll talk about how to expand from there. 

Knit ties

I considered putting knit ties in yesterday’s post, as they’re a strong enough staple. However, today’s post is about ties for specific functions, while yesterday’s are more all-purpose. In that sense, knit ties belong here, as they serve the function of being a casual necktie. It just so happens that men are so commonly in casual situations that a knit is probably going to be one of your more used pieces. 

There are essentially three different types of knits: softer silks, crunchy silks, and wool. What you choose is purely a matter of preference. Any of these will help you play to the middle of the casual to formal spectrum and, like grenadines, help add some texture to your wardrobe.  

Prince of Wales, Shepard’s checks, or houndstooths

Next, you will need a tie for formal events that aren’t black tie (which nobody properly throws nowadays anyway). If the dots on your pin dot tie are sufficiently small enough, it will be fine for formal function. Otherwise, you need some kind of checked tie. I recommend a Prince of Wales check (also known as a glen plaid), Shepard’s check, or houndstooth. These will work well for things such as weddings. Get them in an elegant color combination, drawn from colors such as black, gray, white, navy, and cream.

Seasonal ties: wool and linen

I’m a big fan of dressing to seasons. Heavy cashmere trousers with boots during the fall and winter seasons; tropical wool trousers with loafers in the spring and summer. As such, I strongly believe that you should have some seasonal ties. Wool ties for fall and winter, and linen ties for the spring and summer. Like everything else you’ve seen thus far, start with discrete patterns such as slight checks and stripes. 

Ancient madders

I used to think ancient madders were for old men, but I’ve since gotten some sense. When done well, they are the mark of a man who knows how to truly dress well - beyond just getting solid colored ties with textures. 

Ancient madders have paisley or geometric designs, and typically come in dusty colors such as mustard yellow, matte jade green, and faded indigo blue. These patterns are printed on a special gum-twill silk, which, when combined with the madder dye, have a chalk hand (soft but powdery feeling). I find that they’re somewhat seasonal, like the linen and wool ties, and mainly feel right in the fall. It’s not as versatile as some of the other ties I’ve talked about, but when it feels right, it feels really right. 

As for where to get these ties, my recommendations are the same from last time, so check my last installment.

Put This On Episode 5: Clothing Credits

Intro:
Tie: Pierrepont Hicks
Shirt: Lands’ End
Sweater: Vintage Scottish Cashmere
Jeans: Levis LVC 1947
Shoes: Grenson
Vest: Lands’ End

At J. Press:
Shirt: CEGO Custom Shirtmaker
Jacket: Polo Ralph Lauren
Sweater: Vintage Scottish Cashmere
Tie: Vintage Unlabeled
Pocket Square: Luciano Barbera
Pants: Incotex

At Thom Browne:
Shirt: Brooks Brothers Black Fleece
Tie: Santoni
Pocket Square: Vintage
Pants: Vintage Ralph Lauren Purple Label
Shoes: Vintage Florsheim
Socks: Robert Talbott

We Got It For Free: Panta Unlined Cashmere Neckties
Ed, the proprietor of the tiny boutique clothing line Panta, based in New York, sent me two of his latest neckties today. I’m absolutely wowed by their quality. They’re heavy cashmere, and unlined, which gives them an unparalleled hand and a casual, slouchy feeling. This is perfect, of course, with the soft-shouldered Italian style that’s all the rage these days. The edges are hand-rolled, and I literally exclaimed an expletive when I touched the darn things, they’re so soft.
Ed’s having a trunk show on Friday in New York City, if you’d like to check out and purchase his ties and trousers. Ties will be $99, and pants $199 (an extra $50 for cashmere). He’s promised me some pants when things settle down, and based on the evidence so far, I’m extremely excited about them.
You can find Ed on Friday at 246 Fifth Avenue (just off Fifth) on the corner of 28th street, fifth floor, from noon to six. Just look for the stream of exceptionally well-dressed men.

We Got It For Free: Panta Unlined Cashmere Neckties

Ed, the proprietor of the tiny boutique clothing line Panta, based in New York, sent me two of his latest neckties today. I’m absolutely wowed by their quality. They’re heavy cashmere, and unlined, which gives them an unparalleled hand and a casual, slouchy feeling. This is perfect, of course, with the soft-shouldered Italian style that’s all the rage these days. The edges are hand-rolled, and I literally exclaimed an expletive when I touched the darn things, they’re so soft.

Ed’s having a trunk show on Friday in New York City, if you’d like to check out and purchase his ties and trousers. Ties will be $99, and pants $199 (an extra $50 for cashmere). He’s promised me some pants when things settle down, and based on the evidence so far, I’m extremely excited about them.

You can find Ed on Friday at 246 Fifth Avenue (just off Fifth) on the corner of 28th street, fifth floor, from noon to six. Just look for the stream of exceptionally well-dressed men.

It’s On eBay 
Vintage Pringle Cashmere Sweater (42)
I’ve said it before, but there is no better second-hand target than high-quality cashmere. If its in good shape and of good quality, it will be better than new. An older Pringle or other Scottish-made cashmere will be of a quality that is tough to buy in stores for less than four or five hundred dollars. Choose v-necks in staple solids like navy, burgundy and gray.
Buy It Now $39.99

It’s On eBay

Vintage Pringle Cashmere Sweater (42)

I’ve said it before, but there is no better second-hand target than high-quality cashmere. If its in good shape and of good quality, it will be better than new. An older Pringle or other Scottish-made cashmere will be of a quality that is tough to buy in stores for less than four or five hundred dollars. Choose v-necks in staple solids like navy, burgundy and gray.

Buy It Now $39.99

I just bought two cashmere turtlenecks on eBay. One is gray, by Black Fleece. The other is cream, by Pringle (and old). I’m pretty sure I can wear them. Pretty sure.

I just bought two cashmere turtlenecks on eBay. One is gray, by Black Fleece. The other is cream, by Pringle (and old). I’m pretty sure I can wear them. Pretty sure.

eBay user Lulabel167 is offering cashmere scarves this year - she lists them as by a “luxury Scottish mill,” but we happen to know they’re by Begg, which is one of the finest “luxury Scottish mills” in existence.  These often go for quite reasonable prices, and the UK-based seller is willing to ship worldwide.  Check out her stock here.

eBay user Lulabel167 is offering cashmere scarves this year - she lists them as by a “luxury Scottish mill,” but we happen to know they’re by Begg, which is one of the finest “luxury Scottish mills” in existence.  These often go for quite reasonable prices, and the UK-based seller is willing to ship worldwide.  Check out her stock here.