Fashion of the 1930s at the FIT Museum

Curator G. Bruce Boyer says that modern fashion began in the 1930s. His new exhibit, at the FIT Museum in New York, is “Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s.” Director Ben Harrison talked with Boyer at the posh opening party for the exhibit, and the curator drew the line between the Victorian and Edwardian fashions that still prevailed through the 1920s, and the strikingly contemporary styles of just a decade later.

The exhibit features vintage examples, ranging from evening clothes to trench coats to Fred Astaire’s shoes. In the early 30s, America was tightening its belt, but contemporary style was just getting started.

The exhibition runs through April 19th at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Crazy Stuff on eBay

I spend a lot of time digging up auctions for our eBay Roundup and Inside Track posts. Sometimes, when I want to take a break from looking up stuff on eBay I … look up stuff on eBay. Lately, I’ve been really fascinated by vintage military and biker gear. To be sure, really beautiful Italian suits and modern streetwear labels are nice (and often what we list in our roundups), but for the purposes of just browsing, they rarely capture my imagination like these vintage pieces. 

Such items are easy to find in retrospect. All you have to do is search for a term, click the “Completed listings” checkbox on the left side of eBay’s page, and then sort by “Price + Shipping: highest first” (that’s in the drop down menu on the right side of eBay’s site). That’ll give you the highest priced auctions that just ended, which usually yields some crazy stuff that collectors recently fought over. 

For example, take leather A-2s. The A-2 is a military jacket worn by US pilots in World War II. They’re distinguished by a fold down collar, zippered front, and two flapped pockets. Ever since there’s been a vintage clothing collectors scene, there have been A-2 fanatics. The really awesome pieces tend to have sewn-on patches on the front and hand painted art at the back. Jesse put up a link to a Collectors Weekly article a while ago, and it has some interesting history about how these paintings got onto the backs of our servicemen. 

Anyway, do a competed listing search for “leather A-2” (without the quotation marks) and sort by price highest ended. You’ll get really incredible looking things such as this leather jacket with a painted demon’s head and this one that says “Flying Jenny." Other cool terms to search for? I like "motorcycle club," "car club," "engineer boots," "Champion shirt," and "Buco," just to name a few. Make sure you’re looking in the "Clothing, Shoes, and Accessories" section, however, lest you want to wade through a lot of non-menswear related results. 

Wearekolas also aggregates some of these finds, although they don’t update their blog too often. The above pictures are from them. This jacket in particular is a doozy, although it has that damaged shoulder line I talked about last week.

A Grand Rehabilitation

I have an old polo coat that I love. It weighs ten tons, is warm as all heck, and I wear it about once a year, when I’m traveling somewhere cold in the winter. It cost me about $30 on eBay (though I think it took another $25 to get it to me), and it was originally made around 1930 for Capper & Capper, a competitor to Brooks Brothers.

Sadly, while the camelhair exterior was holding up strong, the rayon lining was starting to be a bit worse for the wear. As most 80-year-olds do. I thought initially of taking it to my tailor and having him reline it, which probably would have cost a hundred or a hundred fifty dollars, but would have made it good for another fifty or so years of service. That was the plan, for a while.

Then I remembered that I had a closet full of silk scraps - odds and ends from our pocket square fabric that weren’t quite big enough to constitute a full square. I thought of how much I love patched out blue jeans, and wondered if this might be an opportunity for a creative solution.

Above: the result. Rather than replacing the lining, we patched it with fabric leftover from Put This On pocket squares. We were careful to preserve the tags, too - those old tags are one of the best parts of a vintage garment. The result is a very serious and hard-working coat on the exterior, with a beautiful secret inside.

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)

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)

Abercrombie Adventures: Christmas, 1959

I recently obtained a stash of Abercrombie & Fitch store catalogs from the 1950s. If you don’t know, A&F wasn’t always a teenybopper retailer famous for hating ugly people. It used to be a high-end sporting goods shop, with outlets in the major cities of the U.S.  I recently obtained some store catalogs from A&F and its Chicago sister store Von Lengerke & Antoine, and I thought I’d share some of the menswear therein.

This week’s catalog is from Christmas of 1959. As you can see, Viyella was a big product for A&F. Viyella was one of the first proprietary “tech” fabrics, a cotton-wool blend created in the 1890s. It’s soft enough to wear against your skin, but nonetheless warm and comfortable in cool weather. The shirts here aren’t cheap - $18.95 is the equivalent of about $150 today.

The more things change, the more they stay the same - one of the featured items is the Shetland sweater, which runs about $125 in today’s dollars. The one pictured above is almost identical to one my wife got me Christmas this year.

The only-in-1959 award could go to the ski mask or tasseled winter cap, both of which are pretty amazing, but I’m going to give it to the “Swiss Alpine,” a sort of combination sportshirt and sweater with “a suede finish.” Just like in the Alps. I guess.

One practical take-home from the photos: the near-universal suitability of a pair of gray flannel trousers. They go with every top, even the strange one, and look sharp in so doing. Still perfect for any man’s wardrobe.

Giuseppe from An Affordable Wardrobe found a stunning 1930s Chesterfield coat in a thrift. The collar was shredded - but he saw it as an opportunity for a little cosmetic surgery.

Giuseppe from An Affordable Wardrobe found a stunning 1930s Chesterfield coat in a thrift. The collar was shredded - but he saw it as an opportunity for a little cosmetic surgery.

Peter Bogdanovich and Orson Welles, grocery shopping in Los Angeles. 1970.

Peter Bogdanovich and Orson Welles, grocery shopping in Los Angeles. 1970.

Where Does Stuff Go?
Some of my best vintage finds have been at estate sales. If you’re lucky (or smart) enough to find a home filled with quality menswear, they can be a real treasure trove. They’re rare, of course - husbands often die before wives, for one thing, and many men simply don’t have nice clothes - but when it works out, it works out big.
Estate sale shopping has been part of my life since I can remember, since my mother’s an antique dealer, but for many it’s a strange prospect. Stranger still is the idea of selling the contents of an estate. When a relative passes, even people who can handle things like burial arrangements are completely unprepared to deal with the stuff their loved one has left behind.
Martin Codina owns a company that runs estate sales in San Francisco, where my mom lives, and he’s a charming character. (When you’re a regular at these things, you get to know the folks in line with you, and the people behind the counter, it’s one of the pleasures of the pastime.) Martin’s been writing about estate sales for a while, and he’s just put together a really interesting and lovely book called Liquidating an Estate: How to Sell a Lifetime of Stuff, Make Some Cash, and Live to Tell About It.
The book has a pleasant style (important for such a weighty subject), and outlines clearly how to evaluate and sell the contents of an estate, from silver to linens to (yes) clothing. It’s also full of fascinating stories about estate sales past.
If you’re interested in checking out some estate sales in your area, try searching on EstateSales.net, Craigslist (search “Estate” in the garage sales section) and even in your local paper. And don’t be afraid to sign up for the email lists of local estate sale companies - they’ll usually send out an email Wednesday or Thursday detailing the contents of their weekend sales. Look for “designer menswear” and show up early.

Where Does Stuff Go?

Some of my best vintage finds have been at estate sales. If you’re lucky (or smart) enough to find a home filled with quality menswear, they can be a real treasure trove. They’re rare, of course - husbands often die before wives, for one thing, and many men simply don’t have nice clothes - but when it works out, it works out big.

Estate sale shopping has been part of my life since I can remember, since my mother’s an antique dealer, but for many it’s a strange prospect. Stranger still is the idea of selling the contents of an estate. When a relative passes, even people who can handle things like burial arrangements are completely unprepared to deal with the stuff their loved one has left behind.

Martin Codina owns a company that runs estate sales in San Francisco, where my mom lives, and he’s a charming character. (When you’re a regular at these things, you get to know the folks in line with you, and the people behind the counter, it’s one of the pleasures of the pastime.) Martin’s been writing about estate sales for a while, and he’s just put together a really interesting and lovely book called Liquidating an Estate: How to Sell a Lifetime of Stuff, Make Some Cash, and Live to Tell About It.

The book has a pleasant style (important for such a weighty subject), and outlines clearly how to evaluate and sell the contents of an estate, from silver to linens to (yes) clothing. It’s also full of fascinating stories about estate sales past.

If you’re interested in checking out some estate sales in your area, try searching on EstateSales.net, Craigslist (search “Estate” in the garage sales section) and even in your local paper. And don’t be afraid to sign up for the email lists of local estate sale companies - they’ll usually send out an email Wednesday or Thursday detailing the contents of their weekend sales. Look for “designer menswear” and show up early.

There’s been some buzz on the web about the auction of some Steve McQueen-related film items, like his jacket from LeMans and his Husqvarna motocross bike. That’s all well and good, but what’s been left unmentioned is the real gem of the sale: Gene Wilder’s costume from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The bidding starts at a generous $40,000, but on the plus side: it’s guaranteed to take you to a world of pure imagination.
(Thanks, Aaron!)

There’s been some buzz on the web about the auction of some Steve McQueen-related film items, like his jacket from LeMans and his Husqvarna motocross bike. That’s all well and good, but what’s been left unmentioned is the real gem of the sale: Gene Wilder’s costume from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The bidding starts at a generous $40,000, but on the plus side: it’s guaranteed to take you to a world of pure imagination.

(Thanks, Aaron!)

There’s Nothing More Classic Than A Pea Coat
I bought my pea coat at a yard sale in Portland. I was in high school - maybe 15 or 16. A nice woman was selling some of her late grandfather’s things. He’d been a navy man in his day, and she was excited that the coat fit me. I think I paid $25.
That pea coat saw me through some drizzle-soaked outdoor makeout sessions my junior and senior years of high school in San Francisco. It came with me to UC Santa Cruz, where it protected me from the winter chill and from soft thinking. It’s still in my closet today, and while the collar and cuffs are a little more worn than they were back then, I still wear it whenever it’s cold.
The pea coat is probably the military garment which has made the smoothest transition into civilian life. Without insignia or rank patches, it can be (and has been) worn by everyone from former military to peace protesters to preppy lacross player types. It’s also been knocked off by every fashion designer ever. But nothing beats the real thing.
Luckily, buying a real US Navy pea coat is the cheapest way to cover yourself in melton wool, and not just the most authentic. Few are the vintage stores that don’t have a rack of decommissioned coats. You can also find them on eBay, and on sites like this one. This guide on Fedora Lounge will help you date yours - the golden age runs from WWII through about 1970.
When buying, expect to pay $50 to $100, depending on condition. Buttons can be sourced and replaced pretty easily, but if there are moth holes or excessive cuff wear, those are much harder to manage.

There’s Nothing More Classic Than A Pea Coat

I bought my pea coat at a yard sale in Portland. I was in high school - maybe 15 or 16. A nice woman was selling some of her late grandfather’s things. He’d been a navy man in his day, and she was excited that the coat fit me. I think I paid $25.

That pea coat saw me through some drizzle-soaked outdoor makeout sessions my junior and senior years of high school in San Francisco. It came with me to UC Santa Cruz, where it protected me from the winter chill and from soft thinking. It’s still in my closet today, and while the collar and cuffs are a little more worn than they were back then, I still wear it whenever it’s cold.

The pea coat is probably the military garment which has made the smoothest transition into civilian life. Without insignia or rank patches, it can be (and has been) worn by everyone from former military to peace protesters to preppy lacross player types. It’s also been knocked off by every fashion designer ever. But nothing beats the real thing.

Luckily, buying a real US Navy pea coat is the cheapest way to cover yourself in melton wool, and not just the most authentic. Few are the vintage stores that don’t have a rack of decommissioned coats. You can also find them on eBay, and on sites like this one. This guide on Fedora Lounge will help you date yours - the golden age runs from WWII through about 1970.

When buying, expect to pay $50 to $100, depending on condition. Buttons can be sourced and replaced pretty easily, but if there are moth holes or excessive cuff wear, those are much harder to manage.