O’Connell’s Clothing

No offense to the good people of Buffalo, New York, but, despite its many charms, it isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you wax poetic about Ivy style.

It’s a hard nosed, working class city, once a bastion of opportunities for immigrants. But, like Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit, it is a metropolis on the shady side of history, with decades of population loss decimating its urban core.

Yet it’s home to what is arguably the premier shop (apologies to J. Press, none to Brooks Brothers) for traditional clothing in the country: O’Connell’s Clothing.

O’Connell’s was founded in 1959, the approximate high water mark for the Ivy style in the U.S. Where so many other independent purveyors of traditional men’s clothing have gone the way of the dodo, O’Connell’s has endured–and thrived.

How I cannot imagine. It traffics in a style that has a declining audience. It doesn’t have the upper crust cache of J. Press or the Andover Shop. And it is located neither in a major metropolitan area nor a venerable New England town. Nothing about O’Connell’s reality seems to presage its success.

And yet, here we are.

O’Connell’s is one of the last outposts for the classic American style, firm footed in its commitment to American manufacturing. While it sells Shetland sweaters from Scotland, leather gloves from England and fisherman’s sweaters from Ireland, just about everything else it proffers is made on these shores. And it does so matter of factly, with little fanfare, as if such a thing is the norm in style commerce today.

I’ve never had the privilege of visiting O’Connell’s in person. But the company’s robust online presence suggests what an impressive place that must be, filled to the rafters with all varieties of traditional, classic clothing.

In recent months, I’ve purchased two items from O’Connell’s: a madras button down popover (which I think was made by our friends in Fall River) and a deadstock pair of madras trousers that, by my estimate, dates to some time in the early 80s.

They’re both superlative pieces–classic in every way, impeccable in their construction and timeless in appearance and execution.

A word of note about the popover shirts: They are cut quite substantially. I’m 5’11” and I got a small. Even so, it’s a tad baggy on me.

Vintage Murray’s Toggery Shop Madras Jacket

Murray’s Toggery Shop is famous as the purveyor of Nantucket Reds–the essential trouser of northeastern summer. For generations, traditionally minded gents have ensconced themselves in the trouser’s pinkish hue.

Sadly, most Nantucket Reds (except Murray’s M Crest line) are no longer manufactured in the United States–another despairing example of a classic brand that has gone to seed chasing foreign production as a way to save costs and cut corners.

Last year, however, I purchased a vintage piece that is a reminder of how central Murray’s once was to classic American clothing.

I was sifting the wares at a vintage store on lower Westheimer in Houston when I chanced upon a madras sports coat. I had for some time been in the market for a madras jacket, but I had yet to find one to my liking. I opened it up and found the Murray’s label. Further inspection revealed that the jacket was both American and union made.

It fit almost perfectly, and a quick trip to the tailors rectified the excess sleeve length on the left side.

Vetta Capsule

Versatility is a prized attribute. The best items in our wardrobe thrive in multiple contexts. It’s an oxford cloth button down shirt that can be worn both with a blazer and tie or with a pair of madras shorts. It’s a Shetland sweater that pairs equally well with jeans or a tweed sportscoat.

I remember once, in my younger days, seeing a television segment about a woman who advised people on maximizing the functionality of their wardrobes. Her ironclad rule was that every piece you buy should be combine-able with items you already own to create at least three different outfits.

Vetta Capsule has taken that idea to its logical extreme.

This New York-based company sells its wares in collections (capsules in the modern parlance). Each capsule contains five items, and every one of those items can be worn in several different ways. When combined, those five pieces produce 30 different outfits.

It’s an audacious idea–one designed to maximize versatility and minimize conspicuous consumption.

My wife considered a few of the capsules. But a couple of items in each were either not exactly to her liking or were redundant with other pieces she already owns. So she decided to start out with one of the shirts from the Casual Capsule (every piece Vetta Capsule sells can be purchased individually as well.).

It’s called the Boyfriend Shirt. With a nod to classic menswear, the shirt can be worn loose, knotted at the waist and even reversed. It’s made in New York City in a factory where many of the workers have been making clothes for the better part of three decades.

All of Vetta Capsule’s wares are made in the United States–with a commitment to minimizing fashion’s environmental impact. My wife’s shirt is made from Tencel, a fabric that comes from sustainably harvested wood pulp that’s processed, according to Vetta, “in a closed looped system that recycles solvents.”

We’re quite taken by what Vetta is striving to accomplish–fashion at the intersection of classic styling, versatility and environmental consciousness.

Craighill

For years, yours truly has grappled with keychain designs of less than practical dimensions. Many of us know the nearly ubiquitous circle as an antagonist to fingernails. Removing or inserting keys is an exercise in masochism.

The other popular option is a spring latch system. My experience has been that, over time, the latch weakens and begins to separate, causing keys to begin slipping out.

That’s whhy, when I discovered Craighill’s closed helix keychain, I was immediately smitten. It’s an ingenious design–innovative, easy to use and aesthetically inspiring. A little work of art, in fact.

The chain itself–1/8″ stainless steel wire–is shaped like a crossed ribbon. One of the ends is removable, enabling the keys to be slipped on effortlessly. The wire is made in Cicero, Ill., while the ends are made in Cleveland, Ohio.; the combined package is finished in Craighill’s New York workshop.

It represents, in my humble estimation, the apotheosis of keychain design.

The keychain is one of several metal objects Craighill sells, all, to my knowledge, made in the United States. Craighill traffics in the kind of small objects that transform the quotidian into the divine; several are on my wish list.

Freenote Cloth

They probably didn’t intend me to wear their clothes like this.

Although Freenote Cloth touts itself as “a classic menswear collection manufactured exclusively in the United States,” it has a somewhat different view than we do of what constitutes classic.

Its collection suggests a rugged, rural Americana that is rooted in classic concepts of workwear.

Not that we can’t appreciate a fine piece of workwear ourselves. But our perspective hews a little more to the patrician side of the classic spectrum.

Still, a few of the shirts they make have nestled their way into my wardrobe: button ups in heavy cotton khaki and navy wool and a blue and cream striped t-shirt. And, despite our differences in approach, they are among my favorites. Each has a subtle nod to classic pieces from yesteryear, with a kind of louche, insouciant styling characteristic of Hollywood in the 1940s.

Freenote was founded by brothers Matt and Andrew Brodrick and is located in the historic district of San Juan Capistrano, California.

And I think they’re really on to something. They’ve devised a series of American made collections with a truly ecumenical appeal. The kind of clothing that can go from ranch to cocktails without missing a beat.

Criquet Shirts: In Memoriam

Another company, once a vigorous proponent of American manufacturing, has bitten the dust.

I don’t mean that Criquet Shirts has ceased operations.

By all indications, the company is still a going concern.

But its commitment to American manufacturing has now dipped below the horizon. A dark night, indeed.

Where once Criquet prospered on the strength of American made goods, it has now almost completely abdicated that commitment in favor of overseas production, principally in China. It was one of the best sources for American made pique polo shirts (the other being North Carolina’s High Cotton). Its long sleeve chamois shirts were a winter mainstay. And it offered a wide range of made in Texas button downs.

I always had a fond place in my heart for what Criquet was trying to do. I knew, of course, that not everything Criquet sold was made domestically. But their insouciant, casual iconoclasm (dosed with a liberal sprinkling of Austin wise-assery) resulted in some mighty fine pieces, several of which are foundational pieces in my wardrobe.

But now, none but a couple of legacy pieces is made on these shores. It’s all, of course, “Designed in Austin, Texas.” But American manufacturers need not apply.

This is happening far too often. And I refuse, any longer, to mince words.

This is shit.

Criquet, you have lost us. We won’t be back.

Gitman Sisters

For Gitman, our affection is well and truly documented. I have two shirts from its Gitman Vintage line, and both have a deserved placed among my favorites.

A few months ago, my wife and I visited Stag Provisions in Austin, a store whose products include a reasonable subset of American made items, and we noticed that it had expanded its offerings to include women’s clothing. She started perusing the racks and came upon a sleeveless chambray shirt dress.

To our pleasure, we found that it was American made, bearing the Gitman label. Up until then, I had known Gitman only as a maker of men’s shirts. I had no idea it had branched out into women’s wear.

It was a beautiful fit, and so my wife decided to buy it.

Despite a little web sleuthing, I’ve been able to find precious little about Gitman Sisters. None of the items appear to be on the company’s web page; I’ve only been able to find third party vendors who carry the line, which includes dresses, tops (both long sleeve and sleeveless) and shorts.

Stag describes it thusly:

Sisters is the women’s offshoot of Gitman Vintage, and each piece is constructed with as much precision as their high-end men’s dress shirts.

The dress is made of lightweight Japanese cotton. It comes with a fabric belt, and has a shirt tail hem. Stag suggests that it’s short enough to be worn as a tunic over pants or leggings, but it seems more dress than tunic to me, and my wife has worn it as such.

Melanzana, Part 2

A few years back, I wrote about Melanzana, a Leadville, Colorado-based enterprise that sells and manufactures fleece outdoor clothing.

This summer, my wife and I made a trip to Breckenridge. A side trip to Leadville was on our itinerary with Melanzana our first stop. Because my dimensions are a bit more modest than they were when I purchased my first Melanzana fleece, I picked up a micro grid hoodie in a size medium. My wife bought a micro grid dress.

These garments are lightweight, warm, eminently packable and a great value for the price. With a slightly loose fit, they’re the perfect outer layer for a cool day outdoors and an ideal middle layer for colder hiking. In short, the stuff outdoor dreams are made of.

I was astounded by the number of people sporting Melanzana fleece while we were in Colorado–both on the trail and in town. It’s a testament to the popularity of a company that has thrived almost entirely by word of mouth since its founding nearly a quarter century ago.

If you want one of these (and you’re not alone if you do), unless you can make it to Melanzana’s Leadville store, you’re out of luck. Skyrocketing demand has prompted the company to suspend web sales for the time being. But you can still visit their website and lust to your heart’s content.

We love Melanzana not just because it makes and sells its products all under one roof. We love Melanzana because it makes all its products from U.S. made fleece, sourced from Polartec’s Tennessee mill. American made from stem to stern.

Blue Claw Garment Bag

The venerable garment bag.

For those of us who appreciate tailored clothing and for the members of the fairer sex who travel with dresses, it’s essential.

My previous garment bag, a promotional gimmie I received about a decade ago, was on its proverbial last legs, so a replacement had been, for some time, in order.

Understandably, my wife and I wanted a bag manufactured on these shores. And, to our delight, several options presented themselves.

We eventually opted for the Gooseneck Garment Bag from Blue Claw. Made in Minnesota, it’s constructed in a classic, bi-fold style, made from milspec ballistic nylon, about as indestructible as it comes.

The design is resolutely minimal, with all the right details: an interior hanger loop, full grain leather handles and zipper pulls, a zippered shoe pocket, a diagonal zipper for the main compartment. It foregoes the ubiquitous shoulder strap, recognizing that slinging a garment bag over your shoulder causes it to warp in the shape of your torso.

The bag has already held up well during a few trips, both during plane and car travel. And it’s hearty construction suggests a lifetime of dedicated use.

Taylor Stitch

This missive is something of a postmortem.

Don’t get me wrong. Taylor Stitch as a corporate entity is still, by appearances, going strong.

Truth be told, it’s taken me a while to get around to finishing a post about Taylor Stitch. And, over that time frame, Taylor Stitch has shifted from a company that produced most of its wares in the United States to a entity manufacturing clothing in locales around the globe, principally in China. Rest in peace.

In the original post I was drafting, I suggested that Taylor Stitch was trying to be L.L. Bean, a brand, broad in its offerings with a strong connection to its home, in this case California. Sadly, that assessment has proven true, but in a way I hadn’t anticipated. It took Bean several generations to sputter largely into an importer of questionable goods from third world countries. Taylor Stitch has done it in about a decade.

You might think that shift, with its resultant lower costs, would translate into a less expensive product. But you’d be wrong. The clothes still carry the same not insubstantial price tag.

Reddit boards are legion with customers decrying this situation. They point out, correctly, that Taylor Stitch got its start embracing a laid back, California vibe, with American manufacturing central to that identity.

Once their website and their clothing tags trumpeted the phrase “Proudly Handmade in California.” Now they simply say, “Made in China.” I suppose we should be grateful for that level of honesty–both to list the country of origin as few others do and to admit that pride no longer factors into it.

Once this was true. Alas, no more.

Taylor Stitch representatives have weighed in, defending the move on quality control and environmental grounds. Never mind that investment in Chinese manufacturing undergirds a brutal regime with hegemonic views toward the United States. Never mind the fact that Chinese factories have been legendary in their fudging of information on their labor and environmental footprint. And never mind that the decline in American manufacturing Taylor Stitch indicts was hastened by the very outsourcing in which it is now complicit.

Are there challenges to sourcing from United States factories? Of course. But Taylor Stitch had an opportunity to be a part of the solution–to leverage its goodwill to raise the standard and capacity of American manufacturing.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that a smattering of Taylor Stitch’s products are still manufactured domestically: blue jeans, a denim jacket, shoe trees. But the overwhelming majority are made in locations where pride slips on a banana.

I’ve purchased a few American made items from Taylor Stitch over the past couple of years, and they have been uniformly outstanding.

For my son, I purchased a pair of selvedge jeans. For myself, I purchased a pair of running shorts and two oxford cloth button downs. I even cajoled by brother into adding a couple of the shirts to his wardrobe.

Andrew wearing American made Taylor Stitch jeans

Of the button downs, I should mention this (a mild rebuttal to the company’s claims of inconsistent sizing): Every Taylor Stitch shirt I’ve purchased or tried on in size 38 has had the same fit; no variance in sizing to be found. I suppose the anecdotal limits of my experience should not be used to judge the quality control across the board. But let my voice be one small bit of testimony in approbation of Taylor Stitch’s American made shirts.

Yours truly sporting a Taylor Stitch oxford cloth button down, made in California

My one issue with the button downs is the stinginess of the collar. But in today’s style environment of narrow widths and skinny silhouettes, that’s to be expected. It’s a design choice, not a deficiency in the manufacturing process.

At this point, with so much goodwill squandered, I’m not sure if Taylor Stitch can recover. If you’re willing to buy made in China goods, $125 is likely a price too dear for a shirt.

Unfortunately, the story is an all too familiar one: a company, once firmly committed to making its wares in the United States, has betrayed that commitment in a profound manner. The result is, to say the least, dispiriting.