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 It cost me about $30 on eBay (though I think it took another $25 to get it to me), and it was originally made around 1930 for Capper & Capper, a competitor to Brooks Brothers.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.

Updated Backpacks

Put This On is on record as against backpacks with suits (a position I stand by—it usually looks silly and can ruin a suit’s shoulders), but I don’t wear a tailored jacket most days, so I do carry a backpack. I’d love to go to work with nothing but a wallet, keys, and a smile but most of the time I’m lugging more: lunch, a camera, a laptop or tablet, and gym clothes. A backpack is the easiest and most comfortable way to move that stuff. A recent Wall Street Journal piece pointed out that packs have become the luggage of choice for runway designers, although these design-first bags are often short on usability. Modern technical packs from outdoor stores/brands have pockets to spare and good technical performance, but I find the best balance of utility and design in between the technical and design worlds. I’ve handled a lot of the packs on the market and can recommend a few in different price ranges.

Under $100

Herschel Supply: Herschel Supply cracks the list because they make a basic update of the 1980s/90s day packs that became schoolbook staples and because they’re inexpensive. Herschel Supply gets important, basic things like water resistance and internal laptop sleeves right, and offers a variety of relatively subdued styles plus some wilder fabric patterns. Despite a healthy dose of heritage-y branding, Herschel is a young brand and the bags are imported and frankly a little flimsy compared to other options.

Vintage: Buying a pack vintage is risky—you don’t know what leaked on that pack’s last hike. But there are some sturdy, good looking packs on the vintage market. Yucca packs are basic canvas packs often used by Boy Scouts in the pre-Jansport era (and stamped accordingly with BSA insignia). They’re large, floppy canvas bags, and sell pretty cheap. In my opinion, fine for a trip to the farmer’s market, but I wouldn’t trust one with my laptop. Swiss packs in “salt and pepper” fabric are quite roomy and look great with some patina on the leather straps, but some are frankly past the point of realistic usability, and the market has become more competitive in recent years, driving some prices north of $100.

$100-$200

Archival Clothing’s daypack is your basic modern heritage backpack—one big compartment that zips closed, smaller open side pockets, and unpadded webbing straps. AC’s cotton duck fabric is not waterproof, but it’s lighter (and less costly) than the waxed fabric AC uses in some of its other bags. AC’s build quality is universally top notch and I really like their unfussy designs, which reference older styles without requiring a full hikerdelic wardrobe.

The Kelty Mockingbird is the long-standing gear company’s modern interpretation of one of its 1960s mountaineering models. Made of Cordura nylon, it has a cinch-top main compartment, padded straps, and removable lash-on side compartments. (Cordura is the brand name for the woven nylon fabric used in much, if not most, modern soft luggage. Most bags, including the Mockingbird, are 500 denier—a measurement of density—but some use 1000 denier, which is more durable but stiffer and heavier.) Kelty made vintage-style bags for the Japanese market for several years before bringing the designs stateside. I’ve carried this pack most days for over two years with few complaints. One potential drawback of this era of design is the number of straps, pulls, and lash tabs—not the place to look for a minimal appearance.

$200 and up

In the heritage-styled arena, I like California’s Altadena Works, which makes a daypack-styled bag that checks every box on my personal pack list. Cordura fabric, Horween leather-reinforcement on the bottom, seatbelt nylon webbing straps with wool felt padding, and thoughtfully laid out pockets, all made in California. Like a better, more worldly version of the Jansport I carried in high school.

Cote et Ciel provides an alternative for those not as interested as I am in looking like a 1970s Patagonia catalog. The Isar rucksack has two significant compartments: a zipped, padded laptop/tech compartment that  sits against your back, and a larger gear compartment that zips vertically down the center then folds over to give the bag its asymmetrical appearance. Padded straps attach in the middle of the pack rather than at the edge toward the body (it’s complicated; Carryology has a good review that explains with photos) and hug the tech compartment to you. Cote et Ciel uses a number of cotton blend fabrics, all of which claim to be water resistant.

-Pete

The amazing sports uniform blog Uni Watch has a great set of scans from a 1965 varsity jacket catalog. (In high school, I lettered in cutting class to go get salami sandwiches.)