Notes from NYC

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.)


Sweater jacket over a vest and bow tie, that’s my man. Also, I like the light trousers on the 3rd guy, and knit tie on the far right. PS: who’s the pale face? I like his unpocketed watch.

Modern menswear may begin with the 1930s but, while I fully appreciate many of the traditions laid out in that decade, the twenties are more the years for my personal style.  Occasionally, as I dig through the past looking for vintage and dead stock menswear, I find old photos of men wearing the clothing of bygone days;  if a picture’s worth a thousand words, sometimes I’m lucky enough to get the 1000  directly from the person in it or their next of kin. Sometimes the photos come to me in silence, without a narrative. These particular images all came to me as a group, implying that they’re related in one way or another. Every one — a marvelous picture evocative of history, place, and persons. And not only are all the men wearing ties, most of them also have hats. The only dated photo is from 1926.

Click to enlarge all of them. It’s worth it.

Nice shawl collar henley and ankle boots.

The gaiters! Plus we get a girl and some info on the back: written in pen”Blount Springs” (presumably she’s taking some of famed curative waters)  and stamped “Made By J D Humphrey & Son, Huntsville, Ala”

It just says “Frank” in pen. Fiddle case? And what’s in his pocket? The lad in back has an equally cool jacket.

Skinny tie and narrow double breasted jacket.

Ribbon in the lapel. A veteran?

The boaters and bow tie.

Autumnal Sunset

Looking out over the Pacific from the rooftop (with, as always, the Farallones behind the twin palms).

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.

Last Days of Summer

Miss KMK along the water in San Francisco. The title of the post is misleading because our local summer has yet to start (it, like most San Franciscans, is always running late), but I meant it for readers everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. As these images attest nicer days do occasionally happen and, were it selfishly up to me, the California drought never would have ended – girls wore fewer clothes and it was better motorcycle weather year-round.

You should visit her here.

My Old Italian Friend

Borrelli Label

Luigi here has been through the ringer a few times already, “broken in” one could say, though I suppose life will have broken us all after that many spin cycles. But, at the very least, I promise to be a pleasant strolling companion for his twilight years. Maybe he’ll even trust me with a few words of his aged wisdom, perhaps something like “iron at low temperature” or “Viva Garibaldi” or some such cryptic remark. You never know with those old Italians.

Borrelli Shirt Button

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