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Archive for the ‘Sartoriana’ Category

“When you get to be 50 you find yourself talking and thinking as much about death and money as you used to about sex.”

-Jeffrey Bernard, Lowlife

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While I haven’t yet alighted on Mr. Bernard’s perch of 50 at the time of the above quote, I have, as far back as I can remember, reflected on death and money (or at least the wages of sin.) Typically, when considering death and money in the same thought, I’m usually thinking of whose death might bring me money… but so far no one has left a cent. My approach towards both death and taxes is similar — namely, that I have a habit of being late on one account, and plan on being even later to the other. So far one (positive?) thing about how aged I’ve become is that I’m beginning to look like I belong in all those grandpa duds I’ve been sporting for years. One of my lingering problems is that I still look like a lot of things I’m not; bourgeois, solvent, well adjusted, or gay. Though I am none of the above, few can accept it.

Regardless of appearances, one club I may actually belong to is what Paul Fussell describes as the “floating class,” a.k.a the bohemian class, a phenomena which exists outside our  western caste system because it is unassociated with income. Bohemians are a tricky bunch; wearing uniforms outside our station (check), ignoring local morality (check), famously consorting with the disreputable (check), and being notoriously (if often  entertainingly) eccentric/difficult/unreliable companions (yeah, probably). All very amusing until it isn’t: some aging bohos are a tragic lot as Mr Bernard and his milieu demonstrated to the scandalized respectable classes (who followed his musings with the same excitement and horror as one watches cars crash.) His column was astutely described as a “suicide note in weekly installments.” I’m hoping this blog is slightly more upbeat. Only slightly.

Among of the paradoxes of aging (beyond the truth that youth really is wasted on the young) is that every new moment you are the oldest you’ve ever been, so the current “you” always feel old in comparison to yesterday’s you even if, in context of your family/community, you’re not. This might be why I always wake up feeling old.

This was the day I met up with KMK in North Beach for happy hour. Along my way through the Financial District I stopped to window shop at CCC.

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This photo is the view looking back down Columbus to where the Montgomery Block used to be (built 1853, demolished 1959,) or “monkey block” for short, where the pyramid now stands. The Montgomery Block, a 4 storey monolith of a building, had survived the cataclysm of ’06 and was home to Pisco Punch, which was invented on the ground floor at the Bank Exchange Saloon during the barbary days, later perfected by the saloon’s last owner Duncan Nicol, who reportedly took the recipe to grave in 1926; the upper floors served as working space to many artists and writers, including Bierce and Twain.

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This long time neighborhood institution was down the street from our watering hole. A worker owned co-op since 2003. Now that’s my kind of socialism.

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Dewar’s scotch bar mascot c. 1960s

A dress MacLeod tartan unlined cotton tie, presumably the same David & John Anderson of 19th century Glasgow, still extant.

And finally 2 forms of smokey goodness. Please forgive that only one of them is from Scotland, and to even compete with the peat of Islay the Cubans will have to be alight.

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I probably looked like a schoolboy playing hooky, which, as far as life is concerned, I am. Here I am clashing blacks and blues as usual, although for once, not anywhere on my skin. I was in NYC on business recently, but busy as I was, I managed to find an afternoon to explore the brick and mortar offerings of some our better known catalog companies (see below).

The following are my off the cuff first impressions (unedited); I’ll probably wish they had remained unwritten. Keep in mind that these are not the words of an urbane sophisticate who frequents haberdasheries, but rather those of a bohemian.

Polo: The Mansion: definitely fronts an elegant facade but is rather misleading, since most of it appears to be office space – leaving only the corner sliver as a retail store.  Thin it may be, but we get 4 floors of it. I found the inside to be like an over-decorated movie set. That meant: too many oil paintings cluttered along the stairs, (as a painter, I didn’t think that was possible) a couple of which I wanted to consider closely, but the lighting wasn’t appropriate for viewing (the art deserved better). The staff who passed me looked concerned, as if I hadn’t realized the paintings were for decoration only!

Speaking of the staff: they appeared to have been sent over from Central Casting, on hiatus from Gossip Girl. Immaculately groomed — they were handsome, aloof, and disinterested (because, at a glance, they knew I wasn’t a touriste; I probably appeared to them as either a poorhouse fashion student or an intern from next door, so they politely ignored me). Staff outnumbered customers nearly 3 to 1. The few hardy souls who had braved the rain were clustered around an altar of big logo’d polo shirts. Upon leaving, I happened to notice a white-jacketed manboy at the door, silver tray of champagne in hand for incoming customers. Nice touch but note to staff: I prefer scotch.

Overall, not an entirely unpleasant experience, but this place was clearly for tourists. I found myself more mesmerized by the props/styling of the store and less beguiled by the salable merchandise. The narrow layout is odd; maybe it’s just simple familiarity, but I find the San Francisco flagship store more comfortable and the staff more engaging.

Rugby (both the flagship and Bleeker Street store): easily, the most interesting and positive experience among various bougie big-brand retail in NYC was here. And by here I mean not only inside the stores themselves but seeing it worn on the streets of New York in general. Not only was the average in-store customer base older, I definitely saw Rugby being worn on the street, by a similar demographic. For all I know these were employees of Papa Ralph on their lunch break but I enjoyed seeing other men my age wearing it. At the store, staff was helpful without being overbearing, condescending, or rude. Unusual for retail, in this day and age.

Back home I’ve nearly given up on going inside the San Francisco Rugby store since I feel like a creepy old man among the pubescent sales staff. Sure, they’re friendly enough, with few staffers genuinely going out of their way to smile and chat, but everyone is so young. As a rule I don’t like kids, and by kids, I mean anyone under 30. While most of SF Rugby customers are slightly older than the cashiers, they’re usually just looking for brashly branded polos and are too lazy to try and park their car near the downtown Polo store. The only people I’ve seen in the SF store close to my age are the Japanese tourists; judging from my shopping experiences in Tokyo, I can say that we seem to have similar taste.

Brooks: The older sales staff followed me around like I was going to steal something, which is funny since paying full price there would be like them robbing me.

J. Press: Devoid of customers except for a man I took to be Bruce Boyer (and, if it was, he was my only celeb sighting on this trip.) Mr. Boyer was chatting with sales associate about ”Ivy,” but that’s the most I could eavesdrop, and I too shy to approach him. Overall, J. Press had a much more playful and tempting selection of neckwear (particularly bowties) than the competition. Their casual wear is collegiate, and certainly my style if not my budget; in person, the selection was better than online (or so it seemed) but still not as daring as their designs in Japan. I understand that it’s for a different market over there in Tokyo, but a boy can still dream.

Pink: The young sales staff, though friendly, followed me around like I going to steal something. Offputting.

J Crew: Conspiring circumstances prevented me from visiting the famed mens “liquor” store, though I did trespass in both the Union Square and upper Madison stores. Not much to say overall. One thing I did notice was this: any under-40 male in Manhattan who wasn’t wearing either a business suit or H&M casual seemed to be using the J Crew catalog as his style guide — jeans, plaid button down, and déshabillé blazer. I will credit the Crew on making something of their menswear — ten years ago, it took experts with microscopes and carbon testing to determine if there was any difference between J. Crew and Banana Republic; now both brands are leagues* away from each other. (*by “leagues” I mean that even though they both still cater exclusively to upper middle class white guys, among that particular 1% they are noticeably different.)

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Summer Leftovers

Here I am, looking as if I had just swum through a tub of Neapolitan ice cream. Maybe it is the burning heat of our Indian Summer that inspired me, or maybe I just wanted to reminisce about the old days – when northern California weather used to make me feel like I was somewhere south of the arctic tree line. Part of the issue is that I live more coastal than bayside; this is a critical difference when it comes to micro climates and fog patterns. But we’re now in the thick of an autumnal heatwave and that’s cause enough to disinter the BBQ and finish off the backwash in that bottle of Boodles.

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As you can see it’s summer here in San Francisco. Standing on my roof in the fog often feels like I’m standing at the edge of the world, and given my proximity to the Pacific, and San Francisco being one of the more westerly oases for the spiritually and culturally exiled, I suppose I am standing on such a precipice. This shot in particular looks like I was waiting for a bus and suddenly found myself teleported to the rooftop. Here I’m clad in my de rigueur rumpled shirt and trousers, with my concave torso at least being disguised in several layers of fabric. The lack of a pocket square is because I fled the house in some haste – tardy, as usual, for what some call work.

The jacket is from the discontinued Polo “University” label; although that bridge line is no longer, there are currently others to choose from. My preference is Rugby – a favorite of Polo’s attempt at “gateway drugs,” though perhaps that isn’t being quite fair to Rugby, which was once the more daring child of Papa Ralph’s. But, ultimately, it is the accountants who control our blue chip consumer goods, not the creatives, so I don’t (usually) blame designers for any lulls.


Ahem, back to me – the sweater vest is Façonnable. I confess some surprise that the fit wasn’t more of a “slim”, you know — with their famous Mediterranean diet and all. Though, with my creeping decrepitude, leaving room to grow probably isn’t a bad thing. The shirt is Cafe Coton and the tie is American Traditions. The latter’s name is open to some interpretation, invoking either “witch trials” or, more probably, “WASPs.” (Both Cotton Mather and Thomas Paine can be perceived as American heroes depending which American you ask.) American Traditions, at least at the time of this particular tie’s birth, was owned/licensed by Superba Inc, a subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen Inc, who own nearly every brand you’ve ever bought at a mall. Ah yes, the “comglom,” or in slang: “if an oligarch was transposed into a spreadsheet.” Of course, as Citizens United v. FEC showed us, there is no difference anyway.

Tie: American Traditions
Sweater Vest: Façonnable
Shirt: Cafe Coton
Blazer: Polo
Trousers: BR

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Summer Chill

That abused word “chill,” as in”relax,” is not how it’s generally used in San Francisco between June and August. Instead it’s used to exclaim that it’s damned cold… as usual. Now, I used to complain that all the wool topcoats I brought with me from the rust-belt were unwearable in SF. Thanks to Al Gore’s climate change, I now can wear them year round and with the prevalent lack of central heating out here, at home in bed as well.

Here I’m seen wearing a vintage camel colored Pendleton overcoat. Being tall means the overcoat appears to be length of a driving coat. Such things oft happen to me; as this world of ours is by and for shorter people (cue Randy Newman), it should come as no surprise that “Floods” is my World of Warcraft screen name. The rest of the outfit is (with the exception of the plaid tie) warm, safe and simple. A pistachio heathered Banana Republic sweater and honey brown chinos — also from the same Gap step child. A JoS A Bank shirt. The tie is a summery cotton number from Target who, for a little while at least, were trying to do menswear with a dash of class. It can’t be easy when their demographic seems limited to maternity hoodies and mom jeans (and that’s just the mens dept.) I’ve heard they’ve had luck with faux upscaling their womens lines by bringing in guest designers. Maybe they need to step up and buy an overplayed Madmen endorsement like every other retailer in the next price point above them.

Here is an earlier summer shot of the same tie. Captured as I paraded it about on a notably warmer day (note the rakishly undone collar button though, to be honest, I’m not sure a sweater vest ever qualifies as “rakish.”) In my defense, since I often work in local micro-climates unrecognizable from the one I dress in, I usually dress for wherever I’ll be spending the most time. Or I might dress for my mode of transport: when riding 2 wheels and 650cc’s into work, I lean toward layers that can withstand wind, fog, chain grease, and friendly fire from neighboring car windshield cleaning spray; if carpooling (“To the office, Jeeves”) I might sport loafers and a blazer; public transit calls for Kevlar under a trash bag poncho (to easy-clean the hobo vomit).

Tie: Target
Coat: Pendleton
Sweater: Banana
Shirt: JoS A Bank
Trou: Banana

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Men are a peculiar species. Not just humans in general, who are weird enough that I cross the street to avoid them, but specifically the subspecies of males. Straight men, scientifically speaking, don’t talk much among themselves about anything that doesn’t involve cars, sports, or (presumably naked) women (gay men are encouraged to substitute their own clichés here: Judy Garland anyone?) (And, as an aside: it has always amused me that straight men who obsess over watching beefcake, tightly-wrapped-in-spandex dudes tackle each other for a living, fail to see how… um… “latent” their interest in sports is.)

Anyway, as as endlessly fascinating as the previous mentioned conversational topics are, it is a narrow list, and of limited help to a burgeoning male on the edge of adulthood. Lacking any sort of proper mentoring, rite of passage, or even the likelihood a present father, today’s young men have to turn to the internet to watch instructional videos on “why it itches” or simply “how to shave.” With the abundance of extra hormones in the fast food chain, teen boys are in need of a shave a good 5 years younger than dad.

One of many areas in which men of all ages are hopelessly uninformed is the realm of socks. After all, how much does a man need to know about pairing socks with Nikes? Assuming he owns a pair of something nicer than sneakers, a man must be semiconscious about what he’s making the rest of us look at, between his cuff and brogue. A spell back, my cyber clothing colleague, Will, over at A Suitable Wardrobe, posted about how socks now are generally of a quality that one can forgo sock garters altogether (he also mans-up the support item of this post by calling them “sock suspenders.” Nice touch.)  I know for a fact that the socks sold through his online store are certainly of this top caliber. But the bulk of foot tubes in my dresser drawer are, after a few cycles through the wash, shapeless sacks whose top has no interest in clinging to my knees, preferring instead to flutter about the ankle. This complaint has been voiced often enough in conversation with other sartorially inclined men that either A) Walmart needs a better quality production gulag on the mainland, or B) there is an egregious industry wide conspiracy of “planned obsolescence” in hosiery that warrants rioting.


Whatever the reason, a daily solution is still (as it was for grandad) sock garters, and among the nicest are those made by Swan Clothing. An accessory company started by Tara Bethune-Leamen 2005, she has previously focused on women’s accessories, however her luxury sock garters could be considered a first foray into the men’s room, so to speak. These garters are ultimately unisex — not entirely surprising  since women have historically co-opted our dry goods and looked better in them (e.g. The Night Porter and what Ms Rampling did for peaked officer caps/suspenders); as such, one shouldn’t be alarmed when visiting the Swan Clothing website. You will find a shapely set of lady’s gams modeling them for you which, frankly, I reckon as a bonus. If only Polo did that with bow ties; I’d buy even more.

Below I’m carefully concealing something. Hint: it’s below the belt.

And for the regular reader(s) — the tie of day:

Specs for the latter images:

Tie: Superba (100% Dacron and “fully washable”)
Shirt: Chalres Tyrwhitt
Cardigan: McGregor (vintage)
Trousers: BR
Overcoat: BR
Socks: Rugby (given the inspiration of the day I thought it worth mentioning)

Don’t forget to visit:

http://shop.swanclothing.com/

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