Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Style Report - Support the Small Guys

In the weird world of internet clothing forums the word "artisan" gets a lot of play, usually to describe the maker of an item far out of my price range.

I have amassed a considerable wardrobe over the last four or five years. About half came from eBay and thrift shops; the remainder from deals like Lands End or Orvis overstocks, the regular sales at Brooks Brothers and J. Press, and some trading with fellow enthusiasts of The Look Unhappily Known As Trad.

It's been hit-or-miss, especially at the onset of the madness, and had I known more at the time I would have spent less for better things.

But this is why they call it "learning."

Now I am at the point where I do not need another shirt, tie or pair of grey slacks for the next gazillion years, assuming no dramatic weight change. There are a couple of holes in the sport coat and suit collection, but with patience the right pieces will materialize.

So in order to feed the dragon I have adopted a new strategy of adding small items to the collection, perhaps one a month or so; items that come from small outfits, where I have established a personal rapport with the "artisan."

(There has got to be a less snooty way of saying "artisan": Tiemonger; linkslinger; Baron of the Buttondown?)

The idea is to slowly add quality stuff to balance out the mass of RTW/thrifted/used items. And to do so in a manner that does not bust the budget.

I just took delivery of this shirt from Mercer and Sons. They call it "James Bond's favorite tattersall" and now that I have it in my grubby mitts I'm not going to begrudge them the hyperbole.

I have two old Orvis tattersall shirts that together have formed the Holy Grail of tattersalls in my mind - a sturdy cloth, looks good with a sweater and/or tie, and yet wouldn't be out of place with mud and fish guts on it.

The two Orvis shirts, however, fail in the "looks good with a tie" category, their necks being too small. And the current Orvis offerings in sports shirts are designed for a very portly sportsman indeed, with a Large gent apparently checking in at 220 lbs., with a 48-inch chest and arms that hang to China; and the Medium pretty much the same as Mr. Large minus two inches in the chest and an inch in the sleeve.

The Mercers will send you swatches on request. (They'll even send them without a request, once they get your address.) That is how I determined the fabric on the tattersall was about right. The pattern looked good. I already knew the cut was how I prefer it - baggy. (None of your slim-fit fashion geeks staring into space while leaning against a boulder on the Adriatic coastline for me, thanks.)

The big stumbling block was the price tag - $140. More sophisticated people than me ("sophisticated" = "loaded") will laugh politely at my concern, pointing out that $140 for a unique shirt made one at a time by a small company is in fact a bargain, especially as compared to fancy shirtmakers who produce some extraordinary-looking things at colossal prices - shirts I personally wouldn't be caught wearing while dead in a ditch.

But $140 represents a significant chunk of Ye Weekly Check, so I had to think it over.

For about ten seconds.

I wrote out the check, filled out the form, sent it away - and forgot about it. Turnaround on all but the most common items is about six weeks, and sure enough, six weeks later (almost to the day) the UPS man turned up with the modest padded envelope.

I'm writing this while sick. I am not even going to wear this shirt until I am better, that's how much I like it. I am thinking about erecting a temporary shrine to the shirt. A triptych, with the two Orvis shirts flanking the majestic New Tattersall.

Or maybe not.

Also in the mailbag this week were these little cufflinks from Mr. Kent Wang, the croquet-playing maestro of style in Austin, Texas.

Mr. Wang has an odd sense of humor and a great eye for the small flourishes that can make an outfit really come alive. His cufflinks are a particular relief to me, as I dislike great bulbous things hanging off my cuffs.

The pocket squares are first-rate as well, and a little smaller than many manufacturers', which makes for less migration during the course of the day.

And everything from KW is eminently affordable - in this case, $25 shipped. Let's hope he keeps it that way.

My latest non-thrift shop tie purchase was from David Hober, of Sam Hober (named after Samantha, the first-born of the latest crop of Hobers).

My dealings with David go back several years, when I first bought a Thai mudmee pocket square and was immediately impressed. It was unusual without being gimmicky.

Since then we've designed a couple of ties together and maintain a lively correspondence.

Sam Hober used to be based in Denver but they have relocated to Thailand, which means that David can call you on his Internet phone and sound better than someone in the next town.

The tie is the Trad Special #5 (that awful word again). Designed by one of the clothing forum guys, apparently, and David informed me mine was the first off the production line (such as it is).

What I like especially about the more traditional of the Hober ties is they look a great deal like the Brooks ties they are inspired by, but differ in some stylistic detail. A difference too subtle for the average jamoke, but I know it's there.

And once the Hober ties are handled in person the vastly superior workmanship is apparent. And at $75 shipped from the other side of the globe, I don't see the problem, unless you're in a hurry. Turnaround is again about six-eight weeks.

Here I am modeling the Trad Special #5 with the most conservative suit I own. Stodgy, yet effervescent. (!?)

1 comment:

3button Max said...

Pat-nice post on Mercer and Sons-surprised there werent comments viz your humorous writing style and subject.
I too bit the bullet and in April r'cd a white ocbd w/Press flap pocket-well worth parting w/the extra bucks (less 25 gift certificate from my sister-
the tattersal is sharp. maybe later this year I will plump for another shirt. your writing on any topic is always great fun-