There are some truly stunning photos in this roundup of Carl Van Vechten’s portraits of Harlem figures of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Above is James Earl Jones at 30 in 1961. Don’t miss W.E.B. Dubois with striped suit and handkerchief or the almost distressingly handsome Harry Belafonte.
A quick tip for our readers in New York: reader Andrew tells us that his favorite thrift shop, at St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church on the Upper East Side, is holding a closing sale. Everything in store is half off. He also mentions that they say if they can raise enough money, they may stay open, which is why he’s shared this info with our readership.
Divulging one’s thrift store secrets is serious business, so I know Andrew must really care about this spot. New Yorkers can find it at 184 E 76th St, between Third and Lexington. It’s open 11 - 5:45, Monday through Saturday.
Shopping Kamakura Shirts, New York
After reading Derek’s thorough oxford cloth button down (OCBD) shirt series and some background on Japan’s Kamakura Shirts over at Ivy Style, I ordered a Kamakura OCBD in university stripe from their recently opened e-shop with great expectations. The shirt I ordered was well made but a little slimmer than I prefer, and I determined I’d have to visit their retail location before ordering more, so I could better assess the fabrics, cuts, and sizing in their purported throwback Ivy glory.
I was not let down when I finally got to Kamakura this week. Kamakura’s New York shop occupies an unassuming storefront at 400 Madison Avenue, a block north of J. Press’s flagship, with Paul Stuart a little further south. Those are beautiful spaces, with some of the finest American classic menswear on display, but right now I’d prefer to buy my shirts at Kamakura.
Shirt Design and Construction
If you aren’t familiar with the history of the American oxford cloth button down, I recommend Derek’s introduction. Like Derek, I wear button-down collars almost exclusively. Straight and spread collars I reserve for the occasions for which I must wear black shoes like weddings and job interviews. In his OCBD series of reviews, Derek concluded that several shirtmakers produce excellent button-down collars with the sought-after “roll,” but that Kamakura is the top choice for the right collar, a more modern fit, and a reasonable price. Most Kamakura shirts sell for $79; Mercer and O’Connell’s OCBDs are over $100, and Brooks Brothers non-non-iron, American-made OCBD is $95 (Brooks shirts are regularly available at a discount).
The workmanship on Kamakura’s shirts is quite good—stitching is even and clean, and seams finished well. Collars are cotton lined but not fused (lining and fusing help a collar keep a consistent shape, but make a collar stiffer; not the goal on OCBDs). The shirts are made in Japan, while similar shirts from Brooks, Mercer, and O’Connell’s are made in the United States. Kamakura’s standard fabrics are mostly 100% cotton, often Xinjiang cotton, a long-staple variety grown in China that has a reputation for softness. Some shirts use Italian or American cottons and are labeled accordingly. The standard Kamakura oxford fabric seems to have a little less heft than beefy American OCBDs. All shirts use trocas/takase shell buttons, which look better than the plastic buttons on mass market shirts but are not as thick or iridescent as true mother-of-pearl. The basic OCBDs hit the right notes for Ivy-influenced shirts, although they omit some arguably traditional details like a third button at the back of the collar, a locker loop, or a flapped chest pocket. As a rule, Kamakura makes well-built, straightforward shirts.
Shirt Cuts and Sizing
Kamakura cuts both traditional and slim shirts, and the biggest barrier for new customers will be getting the right cut and size. For dress shirts, there are four cuts. In order from fullest cut to trimmest: New York Classic, Tokyo Classic, New York Slim, and Tokyo Slim. The New York Classic is a traditional, full-cut shirt; the Tokyo Classic a little trimmer, and the slim versions are darted and hence slimmer still. Darts are not a traditional OCBD detail, but they effectively reduce billowing fabric at the waist. Shirttails on all cuts are long and intended to be tucked in to pants, so these are not ideal substitutes for short, ultra-casual OCBDs like those from Band of Outsiders or Gitman Vintage.
It’s great to have different cut options, and the shop offers try-on shirts, but Kamakura’s shirts are not clearly individually labeled according to cut. The help of a sales associate is recommended—on my visit, the two associates working were attentive and knowledgeable. The marked sizing can also be confusing to Americans. The tagged sizes are neck/sleeve measurements in centimeters and they don’t translate evenly to inches, which is one reason the e-shop’s style guide can be confusing (thirds of inches?). In addition, the sport shirts are sized S, M, L, and LL (i.e., XL), but the cuts vary greatly. Some of the issues with cuts and sizing can be chalked up to the ongoing process of expanding a well-established Japanese brand to a single location in the United States. The e-shop is adjusting some size notations.
Although the exemplary OCBD is the centerpiece of Kamakura’s shop, other items are worth considering. I purchased a button-down collar shirt in a knit pique cotton fabric that’s also available as a spread collar model. Shirts in 100% linen would have turned my head were fall not already on my mind. Ties are generally in the prep tradition of stripes, solids, and silk knits (made variously in Japan, Italy, or Germany), and fairly priced at $69. Silk or linen Italy-made pocket squares with hand-rolled edges are $30. Kamakura also makes shirts and shirt dresses for women.
Right now, web orders ship from Japan, and customers in Japan have access to a wider range of goods, including pants and a small selection of jackets. The Madison Avenue store plans to launch a made-to-measure shirt service in August, pricing shirts at $180 regardless of fabric choice. But the off-the-rack shirts are reason enough for a visit. In my opinion, once you determine your preferred cut and size (and if you dig shirts in the prep/Ivy/trad style), Kamakura is the best bang for the buck (collar for the dollar?) out there right now.
New York Daily News: Anthony Weiner gets 2 legs up on NYC mayoral competitors with bright trousers
“Is it a blatant attempt to get the gay vote?” menswear designer Jeffrey Banks asked regarding Weiner wearing red pants last week to the Greenwich Village rally celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. “Is the casual look an attempt to make him seem more accessible?”
Christian at Ivy Style has a fascinating retrospective on a formative but largely forgotten American clothier: Rogers Peet.
New York: American Sember Closing Sale
A tip from our friend Carl Goldberg at CEGO Custom Shirtmaker in New York: the New York shirting wholesaler American Sember will be closing. That’s lousy news for shirt fans on the Eastern Seaboard, as the company was one of the best suppliers of fine shirt fabrics. In the short-term, though, it’s good news for New York clothing fans, as they’re clearing out their stock at discount prices, and they’re selling directly to customers, not just shirtmakers.
Here are the details from Carl:
This is strictly cash and carry.
There will be fabric available from the following mills
Albrecht & Morgan (Swiss)
Grandi & Rubinelli (Italy)
S.I.C Tess (Italy)
Thomas Mason Silver Line $25-33 per yard and Goldline $40 per yard
D. J Anderson and Soyella $45
The rest of the fabric 36” is $10 per yard and 60” is $20 per yard. (Check with your shirt maker to see how much you will need.)
There are also MOP buttons from Gritti (italy) no white 18L lots of colors
Lining for inside collars and cuffs.
Give them a call before you stop by. Here’s their info:
29 West 30th St #702 btw 5th and Broadway.
And if you don’t already have a shirtmaker, Carl has offered to make up any 60” fabrics from the sale for $125. He’ll do you right. His info is on his site.
I loved this short film about Walt Frazier’s style. If you don’t know, Frazier wears some of the most outrageous clothes in the world - he’s famous for making suits from upholstery fabric. He even owns (and wears) one with a cow spot pattern. Despite his outrageousness, though, he always looks great. Of course his broad, charming smile helps. And the fact that he’s a genuine basketball legend.
An aside: the short’s directed by Nelson George. Not only is George the author of one of the most important books about soul music, The Death of Rhythm & Blues, he also provided hand claps on an unalloyed hip-hop classic, Kurtis Blow’s The Breaks, and co-wrote CB4. You gotta admit, that’s quite a resume.
Our friend Dallas Penn let us know about this very cool event in New York on Sunday, January 20th.
From noon to 4:30, you can buy, sell and trade your vintage Polo gear. Then, starting at 4:30, there’ll be a concert featuring some of the fiercest rappers in New York: Sean Price and Buckshot among them.
I hope some New Yorkers will stop by on Thursday. You’ll learn something, and I’ve also “curated” some cool vintage menswear stuff for the shop.
I’ll be presenting my talk “Make Your Thing” on Thursday as part of Etsy’s pop-up holiday shop in New York City. It’s about making independent media in the internet age, for fun and profit.
The show’s at 6PM, and is at 131 Greene Street between Houston and Prince. Come by, listen, ask questions, buy something vintage or handmade. The talk is free!
And if you’re around during the day, my friend Kevin Allison from Risk! will be doing a storytelling workshop from 2:30-4:00 and my pal Dallas Penn from Internets Celebrities will be doing a workshop on his own special brand of DIY (like making Big Macs from stuff on the 99 cent menu) from 5:15-6:00. It will be fun, I promise.
Ivy Style at the F.I.T. Museum
I’m headed out of New York this morning, having taped a few episodes of Judge John Hodgman, enjoyed a San Francisco Giants World Series victory, ordered a few shirts from my friend Carl, and attended WFMU’s Radiovision conference. I didn’t have a lot of free time on this trip - blame the baby - but I did make time to visit the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum and their lovely exhibit Ivy Style.
Among the sights:
- Some stunning tartan sportcoats by Jeffrey Banks, the former protege of Ralph Lauren, author of several menswear books, and sole African-American contributor to the exhibition.
- Some delightful Berk slippers, featuring a pair in crescent moon and star theme which match some I bought for my wife recently.
- Ralph Lauren outfits pieced together from collections 30 years apart, but sharing a near-perfect aesthetic symmetry.
- A Thom Browne Ivy-inspired suit featuring a spiked crotch.
- Some genuinely gorgeous bleeding madras in shorts, coats, and everything else.
- Some amazing information about a Princeton tradition, still extant, called the Beer Suit. Derived from workwear, it was clothing made to be worn by seniors while drinking, to avoid ruining the good stuff. They look a bit like a painter’s outfit, with graduation years and slogans stenciled on. After graduation, the suit was worn to reunions until the 25th reunion, when one could finally wear a class jacket - usually (by the looks of it) a crested blazer.
If you’re in New York, don’t miss the exhibition, which is free. And don’t forget the symposium, which is in just a few weeks.