New Balance 993

I expect dress shoes, well tended to and resoled on a fairly regular basis, to give me a lifetime of wear. Of athletic shoes, I do not have the same confidence.

The conventional wisdom is that athletic shoes need to be replaced every 300 to 500 miles. I tend, given my inherited midwestern parsimony, to hew to the upper end of that spectrum.

But, every so often, my athletic shoes bite the proverbial dust. In fact, my wife and I both recently confronted the end of our athletic shoes’ productive life. So we turned to one of the New Balance Factory Stores near us.  It had a couple of American made models, and we both opted for the 993.

As the only major maker of athletic footwear still constructing shoes in the United States, New Balance has a special place. Admittedly, most of its shoes are made overseas. But a select group (25% of its output by the company’s own measure) are made domestically in five New England plants, representing more than four million pairs annually.

We’ve already worn them twice. They’re amazingly comfortable–both lightweight and remarkably well cushioned. An upcoming hiking trip in Colorado will provide a true test, although I have every hope that they’ll perform more than admirably.

Swearing Parrot

Classic style is often steeped in nostalgia. It tends to venerate cuts, patterns and looks from the past, recognizing that good style is inherently timeless.

Little surprise then that we have a fond affection, both for actual artifacts from the past and for reproduction items that hearken back to an idealized point in sartorial history.

Last year, my wife an I chanced upon a particular maker of vintage-styled reproduction apparel. We were visiting Retropolis, a sort of vintage clothing superstore next door to Houston’s Manready Mercantile.

While there, we were drawn to a line of reproduction clothes called Swearing Parrot. Upon closer inspection, we happily discovered that everything was USA made. In fact, all of Swearing Parrot’s wares are handmade in the Houston area, by co-founder Amanda Bezemek.

Swearing Parrot’s patterns are the stuff of pure whimsy. In fact, the piece my wife chose was a skirt whose pattern is drawn from Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. It’s an amazing piece, and she’s already worn it several times.

Rancourt, Revisited

Two years ago, I acquired my first pair of Rancourt shoes: the Weltline Penny Loafer. Made in Maine, these have been one of the pillars of my wardrobe. Those of you who follow my exploits on Instagram know that these shoes have been with me, steadfast and true, in travels near and far.

But a recent accident put my loafers out of commission.

One night, my wife and I went out dancing. A woman, drunk beyond the point that faileth human understanding, stumbled onto me. Her heel made a perfect spear, lacerating the vamp at the stitch line. It’s no black mark on the shoes’ durability; I can imagine no other shoe that would emerge from that kind of abuse unscathed.

Yikes!

So to Rancourt the shoes returned, ready both for a repair and for a resoling; I ordered the premium refurbish, which is essentially a recrafting of the shoes from stem to stern. It includes resoling, replacement of the sockliners and removal and replacement of the plug.

The results are amazing. They are practically a brand new pair of shoes.

I should mention that the process is a lengthy one, exacerbated by several snowstorms in the Northeast. It took about three months all told, but worth the wait in every way.

Bills Khakis Madras Bermuda Shorts

A few years ago, we bemoaned the near demise of Bills Khakis. The fire sale of its remaining inventory seemed a harbinger of the company’s imminent closure.

When I found out that the company was to be resurrected, I imagined that it would be as a zombie brand, whose name and sterling reputation would soon be connected to a host of poorly made, imported goods.

How happy I was to be wrong. Bills is back, going strong, with a continued commitment to American manufacturing. In honor of that occasion, we’re featuring a pair of madras Bermuda shorts, which my lovely wife bought me recently for my birthday.

My Bills Khakis Bermuda shorts, getting their first wearing
Bills: still made in USA

The fabric, of course, is not made in the United States, but that’s to be expected with madras, the best of which continues to be produced authentically in India.

A word of note on the sizing. I ordered the 34 (my usual size), and they are a touch big; I probably should have ordered the 33, but it’s nothing that a slightly tighter belt cinch won’t solve.

Tutu & Lilli

I like to think I keep myself fairly well up to date on makers of American made goods, particularly in their classic iterations. The downside to that familiarity can be an overwhelming stasis–an I’ve-seen-it-all-before sense of apathy and ennui. So it always brightens my day when I find a purveyor of American made goods whose presence has eluded my knowledge.

A few months ago, my wife and I encountered one of those, a surprise that enlivened her wardrobe to delightful effect.

We went to the Manready Mertcantile womens popup. It’s an annual event where Manready, which usually traffics in American made goods for men, opens its doors to female artisans whose domestically manufactured products are targeted to the fairer sex.

While there, we came upon a collection of blouses from Tutu & Lilli. She tried on one in black, a version called the Mollie with three quarter length bell sleeves, and we were hooked. I knew that it was a piece that simply had to be a part of her clothing collection. The fit was perfect. The design was first rate. And the fact that it was made in Houston sealed the deal.

She’s already worn it on a couple of occasions, including a wonderful night of dancing.

If there’s a defining element to Tutu & Lilli’s aesthetic, it’s a sense of flow and easy fit. They call it “casual lifestyle dressing.” Truth be told, we know very little else about Tutu & Lilli, save that its wares are made in Houston. Regardless, the blouse is a stirring exemplar of American manufacturing at its best.

Loup

My wife and I are traversing Austin’s South Congress Street, a once modest commercial thoroughfare that has seen a renaissance over the past quarter century. The temperature soars, so we seek refuge in Cove Boutique, an upscale women’s clothing store.

The vibe is modern. The staff is friendly and helpful but not obsequious.

My wife peruses the racks. A few pieces catch her eye. To our surprise, several are made in America.

While she picks a few items to try on, one of the sales assistants brings out a piece: a pair of black coveralls from a company called Loup.  On the hanger, they aren’t much to look at, and he admits as much.

Despite our skepticism, my wife tries it on. It is, in a word, breathtaking. It conforms perfectly to her dimensions, and it immediately conjures up numerous possibilities for accessorizing. Buying it is a proverbial no-brainer.

Loup’s aesthetic is driven by the casual but effortless minimalism that typifies French streetwear, although its entire line is made in New York’s Garment District. Danielle Ribner, a native Los Angelino, avowed Francophile and former student at Parsons School of Design, started Loup in 2009.

 

 

Manready Mercantile Redux

She fooled me.

Last weekend, my wife and I visited Manready Mercantile during the annual White Linen Night festivities. For those of you uninitiated in White Linen Night, it’s a street festival held on 19th Street in Houston’s Heights neighborhood. Its purpose? To promote the various merchants that populate that section of commercial Houston.

It was an amazing experience. As usual, Manready pulled out all the stops, showcasing its unparalleled commitment to American made goods.

I was excited to see that Manready had unveilled its own line of shirts. In the past, Manready’s clothing options had included collaborations with other makers, but nothing under its own label.

Now, for the first time, it offers American made shirts of its own design and provenance.

I had already slated to purchase one of the Taylor Stitch button downs Manready carries, so I mentally consigned the new shirts to the I-like-but-I’ll-buy-later bin. But my wife decided to try one of the shirts–a short sleeve in a Liberty of London type fabric–on boyfriend style. The result was spectacular, and I cajoled her into buying it.

Little did I know that she had different plans for the shirt. She believed, instinctively, that the shirt would work on me, so she let us purchase it under the subterfuge that it would be for her. But once we got home, she began suggesting that I try it on.

I can’t deny it. The shirt looks amazing, but that’s more a function of Manready’s design prowess than it is any innate attractiveness on my part.

Nina Berenato Jewelry

Those of you who have followed this blog with any degree of regularity know that, although we venerate the time tested classics, we occasionally make detours into modernity.  It’s a simple calculation: a splash of modern detail can enliven even the most tried and true outfits.

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Manready Mercantile third anniversary party. As part of that celebration, Manready made room for several vendors of American made products, a multi-maker popup of sorts.

One of those was Nina Beranato, an Austin, Texas based jewelry maker. I took note of Nina’s offerings a few days before the anniversary party; several of the items she had for sale seemed perfect for a certain special someone in my life.

At the popup, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Nina, and, with her thoughtful recommendation, I purchased the Fragment Necklace (handmade in Austin) for my girlfriend.

How best to describe Nina’s jewelry? High modern bohemian, I suppose. I could easily see these pieces around the neck of someone wearing a flowing , floral maxi dress. But I could just as readily envision one of them worn with the ubiquitous little black dress, a perfect modern accompaniment to one of the classics.

Duckworth

There are few joys in life more profound, in my estimation, than putting on a backpack, lacing up some hiking shoes and hitting the trail. Nature refines us. It serves as a palliative from the sometimes onerous demands of modern life. It rights our moral compass. And resurrects in us something primal and ancient.

Backpacking has long been one of my passions. And while I strive for a minimalist approach to the enterprise, gear is still important. Good gear is the difference between comfort and suffering. Between frustration and an unburdened mind. And sometimes between safety and death.

A good baselayer is among the most important of all items for the backcounty. As its name suggests, it is the layer closest to the skin. Some versions are made of a wicking polyester. While they’re lightweight, they have a universal propensity to begin stinking after less than a day of hiking exertion.

Backpacking in Big Bend, wearing my Duckworth wool baselayer

Wool, on the other hand, has natural antimicrobial qualities; after a few days of wearing it, you won’t funk up the jungle. In its merino and rambouillet iterations, it’s also remarkably soft, making it perfect for multiday backpacking excursions.

I recently had occasion to purchase a baselayer from Duckworth, a Montana based company that manufactures a variety of products from the wool of rambouillet sheep. Duckworth’s enterprise is a remarkable exercise in vertical integration. In Duckworth’s own words: “We make our own goods from our own Helle Rambouillet merino, we don’t source them. This is increasingly important as wool now travels farther than ever before it meets your body.”

My initial impression of the shirt–worn during a backpacking trip in Big Bend National Park–is very positive. The shirt is snug without being skin tight. It has a quarter zip for ventilation when temperatures start to soar. And the wool is luxurious next to the skin.

Time will tell how well the shirt holds up, although it’s already survived one washing with no shrinkage.

Allen Edmonds Acheson

As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, my feet are different sizes (8E on the left and 9.5D on the right), the result of corrective action during childhood to correct a club foot.

As a consequence, loafers have long been out of reach. Any pair that fits the right foot will be too voluminous for the left.

In my middle age, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the resources, if not to pursue bespoke shoes, at least to contract made to order versions from various makers. Allen Edmonds, Oak Street Bootmakers and Rancourt have all graciously made me a pair of shoes, with the proper fit for each foot, assessing only a modest surcharge–far less than the cost of procuring two pair at retail.

Alas, Alden. They flat out refuse to play ball. With a cavalier brusqueness that is galling, they decline the opportunity to help customers in situations similar to mine get the right shoe for each foot. The only option is to purchase two pair (at double the cost), running the cost of a pair of non-bepspoke loafers up to $1,000, too dear a sum for yours truly.

Normally, I would let this slide. But Alden’s tassel loafer, American made that it is, has long been considered the ur-tassel.

So I have sulked and I have sulked.

Until this past December, when an elegant solution manifested itself.

While in New Orleans, between bouts of drinking to lamentable excess, I ventured into the Allen Edmonds store. There, I encountered a version of the tassel loafer I had not seen before: the Acheson. I knew of the Grayson, Allen Edmonds’ previous iteration of the tassel loafer. This newer version was a notch above, with a lower vamp that gave it a rakish, louche quality.

In fact, it was every bit the aesthetic equal of Alden’s version. With a sale to tempt me, I ordered a pair in dark olive suede and only had to pay a modest $40 surcharge to have the factory make them for me. About four weeks later, they appeared on my doorstep.

I’ve already deployed them twice–sockless, of course, given the virtual absence of winter weather in these precincts. And they are a true joy to wear, with a perfect fit and impeccable styling, filling one of the few remaining voids in my wardrobe.