You should go to the thrift store more often. You never know what you’ll find.
(Spotted in a Goodwill in West Los Angeles)
(And yes, the arms were insanely long.)
You should go to the thrift store more often. You never know what you’ll find.
(Spotted in a Goodwill in West Los Angeles)
(And yes, the arms were insanely long.)
Easy Ways to Look Better in Tailored Clothing
Whether you’re into the “coat-and-tie look” or not, most of us have to wear a suit at some point, and for those times, it’s amazing how much can be done with just a few basic steps. Look at the photo above, for example – two men in suits, but wearing them to very different effects. The man on the left looks great. The man on the right … less great. So much can be done with just a few simple changes.
Get Your Pants Hemmed
You want your pants hemmed so that there’s either one break, or no break (a break is the small indentation on your pants as your cuff “breaks” over the top of your shoe). You may find, however, that even with properly hemmed trousers, you pants will slip down a little throughout the day, which will ruin those clean, vertical lines. Some simple solutions: wear suspenders, which will keep your pants up at all times; get your waistband and belt adjusted by a tailor, so they fit you better (although, you’ll always experience some slippage with belted trousers); or simply, pay attention to where your pants are and pull them up when need be.
Show a Bit of Cuff
You want about a quarter-of-an-inch of shirt cuff to peek out from your jacket sleeve. There are, however, some complications with this.
First, if your shirtsleeves are too long, you probably don’t want to shorten them. Shirtsleeves need to be a bit long, so that the cuff doesn’t ride up on you as you extend your arm (think of it as having some slack). Instead, you just want your cuffs to stay in the same position, regardless of how you move around. To achieve this, bring your shirt to an alterations tailor and have him or her tighten or loosen the cuff by moving the cuff button. It shouldn’t cost more than a couple of bucks.
Second, if your jacket sleeves are too short or long, you’ll need to have a tailor either let out some material from the edge or take your sleeves up from the cuff. The second process can be complicated by “working buttonholes,” where the buttonholes are actually punched through and not just for show. Don’t skimp here and let that last button sit too close to your sleeve edge. Instead, have your tailor take the sleeve up from the armhole, but know that it’ll add to the cost.
Wear Better Shoes
Finally, wear better shoes. Ones that are made from full grain leather, not corrected grain. Cheap shoes look bad when they’re new, and worse with wear. Luckily, the market for good, full-grain leather shoes has gotten a lot more competitive over the years, which means the entry price has dropped to about $200. You can start with this list of good brands. I’d add Jack Erwin to that now, although I think you still get a nice jump in quality as you move from them to Meermin, Herring, or Loake (conversely, Jack Erwin is located in the US, so it’s a lot easier to return shoes if need be). If $200 is too much for you, there’s always eBay and thrifting. For eBay, you can use our customized search link or smart shop smartly for Ralph Lauren. To learn how to thrift better, check out Jesse’s three-part guide.
Doing just those three things won’t make you look like Cary Grant, but they’ll make you look better than most suit-wearing people in the world. To look even better, read Jesse’s very reasonable and easy tips here. To look even better still, learn about the fit and silhouette of tailored clothing.
(Photo via White Hawk Warrior)
Vintage Leather Belts
I’m not as experienced as Jesse it when it comes to thrifting, but I do enjoy going to thrift stores. When I go, I often like to browse around for vintage leather belts - the thick kind that you wear with jeans. One of the nice things about buying second-hand is that you can get things with a bit more character. With good leather, you’ll often get something that has aged beautifully.
Take the above belt, for example. It’s from a webpage Mister Freedom made for their “Ranchero shirts,” which are lovely, but the star of the photograph - at least for me - is the belt sitting in the middle. The variation in the coloring, the scuffing, and the scored design give the belt a certain appeal that modern workwear brands only imitate.
You can find such belts if you hunt around enough. Just visit good thrift stores or flea markets (in the Bay Area, I’d highly recommend Antiques by the Bay, which happens on the first Sunday of every month. Not only do they have a few vendors that sell vintage belts, but there are a ton of other great booths for vintage wares as well). There’s also eBay, of course, but that gets slightly dicier. Vintage leather goods can be of varying quality - either because of the quality of the leather itself, or because of how the item was taken care of throughout the years. Without being able to handle the belt, and without a brand name to go off of, it can be difficult to know what you’re looking at. Still, some of these are quite affordable, so if you get stuck with something less than ideal, it’s at least not a big loss.
The alternative is to buy something new, but from a brand that takes it inspiration from old, vintage designs. RRL and Levi’s Vintage Clothing often have tooled or painted belts that are made to look like they’re from the mid-century. You can find them at workwear-focused stores such as Hickoree’s and Unionmade. They won’t have the kind of patina that an authentic vintage belt will carry, but they’re often still quite handsome. With enough wear, you might get it to look as nice as the one Christophe Loiron (owner of Mister Freedom) photographed above (though, probably not, because that belt looks really awesome).
(Photo via Christophe Loiron)
The Foundation of a Good Necktie Wardrobe
I don’t know anyone who wears ties that doesn’t have more neckwear than they need. Ties are relatively inexpensive, easier to size right, and can help satisfy that urge to buy something new. The problem with accumulating ties here and there is that you often wind up with a haphazard collection – one with dozens of pieces, but never the right thing to wear.
In my time wearing ties, I’ve found the ones that get the most use fall into two categories.
Solid-colored, Textured Weaves
The first are solid colored, textured weaves – such as grenadines and silk knits (for year-round use); raw silks, tussahs, and linens (for spring/ summer); and wool, cashmere, and the occasional boucle (for fall/ winter). As I mentioned in my post on Donegal ties, the advantage of solid colored, textured weaves is that you can wear them with almost any shirt and jacket combination. Have a patterned shirt and jacket? The solid color helps things not look too busy. Have a solid colored jacket and shirt? The textured weave helps things not look too boring. Having a stable of good, solid colored, textured neckwear helps you look put together without forcing you to think too much about what goes with what in the morning.
The second are striped ties, like you see above. Traditionally, Englishmen wore these ties with the stripes sloping down from left to right, while Americans went the other direction. The style originated in the early 20th century, when decommissioned British officers continued to wear their regimental colors after they returned to civilian life (hence the name “regimental striped ties”). Anglophiles in the United States imitated the practice, but flipped the direction of the stripes so they wouldn’t be accused of being parvenus.
Today, the colors and direction of the stripes don’t really matter anymore, as nobody really remembers the origin of these things. The only thing that’s important is that such ties – at least in the United States – are incredible versatile. Whereas foulards – a type of small-scale, symmetrical, non-representative pattern (usually geometric or floral in nature) – are often better paired with suits, regimental stripes can be worn with either suits or sport coats. And that’s very helpful if you, like me, wear sport coats more often than anything fancier.
Of course, there are other ties worth buying. Paisley patterned ancient madders are fantastic for fall, and a couple of checked or dotted designs are useful too. But for a solid foundation in your neckwear wardrobe, I’ve found solid-colored, textured neckties, along with regimentals, to be the best. I’d suggest getting them in various materials and colors before you expand too far elsewhere.
(Above picture taken from a Ben Silver catalog)
A one-minute short film about a man traveling the length and breadth of Wisconsin, shopping for sweaters at thrift stores. It’s “Sweater Bender.”
The Day I Got Braces. 47 Sets of Braces.
My in-laws were visiting this weekend, so my wife gave me permission to abandon my family for half a day and go adventuring. Most of the time I spent shopping for stocking stuffers (did you know there’s a new Muji flagship in LA?), but I made a little time for thrifting.
There didn’t seem to be much of interest when I walked into one of my favorite shops on the west side of Los Angeles. I went through the racks, found nothing. I wandered through the shoes, came up empty. Found a nice German urntable. It wasn’t working, but they told me $30 and I thought I’d take a flier and see what my guy would charge to get it going. I grabbed a couple of Starting Lineup figures for my boy (Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith, Bo Jackson and Shawon Dunston, if you’re keeping track) and a boys’ baseball glove. I figured I was done.
I walked up to the counter, and was about to pay, when I noticed a rack of suspenders. Just suspenders.
So I asked them to hold on to my little pile and walked over to the rack. I pulled about ten pairs out and brought them up with me. Five bucks each. She mentioned off-handedly that there were two big boxes in the back. Would I like to see them?
Well yeah. Of course.
So I got entrance to every thrifter’s dream: the inner sanctum!
It took me the better part of an hour to go through all the suspenders. By the end, I’d picked out forty-seven pair. Two hundred thirty-five dollars worth. I left behind at least twice as many.
Will I keep all those braces? No. But hopefully the ones that sell on eBay will pay for the ones I do choose to keep. And maybe even the turntable and if I’m lucky the repairs thereto. I’m happy to pay for Shawon Dunston out of pocket.
All in all, a pretty good day at the thrifts.
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.
The Man Who Thrifted A Ferrari
Who’d have thought you could thrift a Ferrari?
Matthew R. is an inveterate thrifter. He says he works seventy hours a week, and he’s been buying and selling second-hand clothes since 1998. Not long ago, he started a consignment service, Luxeswap, and not only do their auctions often crop up in our eBay picks, but I’ve personally trusted him to consign a number of clothes in the past. He’s one of the best menswear sellers on eBay. But truly: I had no idea.
This week, Matthew bought a Ferrari. With thrift store money.
Here’s how it happened…
Matthew started thrifting in the late nineties, and quickly learned that when he found something good that didn’t fit him, he could sell it on eBay and make a little dough. The first item was an Emporio Armani sportcoat. It sold for fifty bucks. Like most of us, Matthew took the extra money and spent it on clothes and small indulgences.
In 2007, he read a book called One Red Paperclip. It was written by a man, Kyle MacDonald, who traded a paperclip for a pen for a doorknob for a camping stove and on and on for a year until he had traded for a new house. Matthew thought: how could I turn my own little hobby into something special?
So he started a savings account.
His business money went into a business account. His personal money - the money from his own personal purchases - went into the savings account. And year after year, that money grew.
Then, last week, he took the money and bought a Ferrari.
Matthew says: “This car was born of things that nobody else wanted. Things that people discarded. I wanted to be able to say I thrifted a Ferrari. And I did.”
A genuinely remarkable achievement.
Trad Nirvana: J. Press Tweed, Circa 1953
One of the great things about thrift store shopping is finding something that seems like it comes from another world. This J. Press coat I found over the weekend is a perfect example. It’s a custom job, completed in October of 1953.
The tweed on this feels like it could stop a bullet. In fact, sixty years later, it’s completely unscarred by time. It could well have just come off the production line. Unlike J. Press today, which usually features a single hooked vent, it’s unvented, but it still features the classic three-roll-two button configuration.
I only wish that it fit me.
Is This an Orphaned Suit Jacket?
I recently received a couple of emails from readers asking if I thought something they were looking at on eBay was an orphaned suit jacket. An orphaned suit jacket is a jacket that used to belong to a suit, but for some reason – whether because they were worn through, badly damaged, or just plain lost – the matching trousers are no longer available. It’s not uncommon to come across these when you’re looking at second hand clothing, and you’ll want to avoid purchasing them. Wearing an orphaned jacket can make you look like you spilled something on your suit trousers and had to change out of them. It’s not a good look.
To be sure, there are no hard and fast rules, and some suit jackets can be worn as sport coats. Those made from cotton, linen, tweed, or corduroy are usually fine. There are also some wools that can be successfully used for both business suits and casual sport coats. However, for the purposes of this post, we’ll assume the simplistic view that suit jackets should generally never be worn alone, as most of the ones you’re likely to encounter through second hand clothing are of a certain type that shouldn’t be.
So how can you tell what’s what?
Generally speaking, the rougher, fluffier, more visible the weave, the more likely you’re looking at a sport coat. Conversely, the finer and flatter the weave, the more likely you’re looking at a suit jacket. This is especially true if it feels very smooth, silky, and lightweight, and you can see diagonal lines on the surface of the fabric (like you can with denim). If the fabric has a bit of shine to it when you bend and move it, it’s almost certainly something that was designated for a suit.
Certain patterns can also be clues. Pinstripes and chalkstripes always indicate something was meant to be worn as a suit. Birdseye, nailhead, pinhead, and very fine herringbone - the kind that you only notice is herringbone when you inspect it up close, but looks solid from a foot or two away - also tend to be reserved for suits, though there are exceptions. If it’s a chunky, rough weave such as tweed, something like a birdseye would be fine.
Similarly, pay attention to scale of patterns. Though suits can come in big, bold patterns, and sport coats in quiet and subtle ones, the more successful sport coats tend to have larger scale designs. It’s a way of announcing to the world: this isn’t something to be worn to a business meeting. Thus, if you’re in between whether or not a jacket can be worn by itself – if the pattern is very small or faint, you’re probably safer off passing.
Lastly, if a jacket has buttons made from metal or mother of pearl, or are covered in leather, you’re likely looking at a sport coat. Horn, on the other hand, can go either way, but one thing you can do is count the number of buttons on the sleeve cuff. If there are less than four, the chances of it being a sport coat go up.
In the end, however, you just have to use your own best judgment. Remember: the point is not to say whether something is definitively orphaned or not, the point is to not look like you’re accidentally wearing a suit jacket without the matching trousers. In the end, just keep that in mind and go with your gut.
(Photo via Capnwes)