Brooks Brothers Black Fleece

Sometimes, I’m late to the game.

In 2015, Brooks Brothers unveiled its last Black Fleece collection, the product of its much ballyhooed collaboration with Thom Browne.

By all accounts, I should have been an ideal candidate for Black Fleece. Much of the collection was made in the United States. And it hearkened back to the heyday of the Ivy look, with a bit of postmodernism wink thrown in for good measure.

But when I was in the market for their wares, I was a good stone heavier. Because Black Fleece cuts were fiercely slim, almost bordering on parody, they were a non-starter for me.

With a number of old Black Fleece shirts filling the ranks of eBay, however, I figured my narrower dimensions justified trying one out. I found a plaid oxford cloth button down in size BB2 with the tags still attached and pulled the proverbial trigger.

The BB2, I understand, was the Black Fleece equivalent of a medium. For the life of me, I can’t figure out on which planet this is a medium. I have shirts in size small that are a tent compared to this.

But still, it fits, albeit snugly, which I suppose is the Thom Browne Way. I certainly never would have paid full price for it. But the discount eBay affords makes this a reasonable purchase. And it’s an interesting modern take on the Ivy look.

Truth be told, we have a somewhat fractious relationship with Brooks Brothers. No company looms as large in the pantheon of the classic American style. But I would also contend that few companies has done as much to betray their American roots. So much of what Brooks produces these days is made in countries with scant labor and environmental protections. The few items still produced in the United States are the last remnants of a once inspiring legacy.

Bills Khakis

Bills Khakis doesn’t get enough love around here.

It’s not that we don’t venerate the company. Despite my desire to diversify the labels in my wardrobe (supporting various American manufacturers), I’ve owned, at various time, 11 pieces from the Bills Khakis. We’ve featured the company several times on this blog. And our Instagram feed contains several posts highlighting its wares.

But I think our affection is outpaced by its influence.

There’s probably no company in today’s menswear that’s done as much to keep alight the flame of American manufacturing. Without Bills Khakis, the classic menswear landscape in the United States would be a far different–and much diminished–place.

A few years back, Bills teetered on the edge of collapse. Its founder was removed in a takeover. It passed through a couple of corporate hands, eventually landing in the lap of NEJ Inc. I thought that heralded the demise of Bills as we knew it–a company, rooted in the classics, with a firm footed commitment to American manufacturing. My guess was that the company would be stripped down for parts, eventually becoming a legacy brand with manufacturing in East Asia.

I’ve never been more grateful to be wrong. To this day, Bills maintains a diverse range of menswear, all made in the United States.

I recently acquired a pair of its Parker shorts. They are everything I’ve come to expect from Bills Khakis: well-constructed, classic, American made.

Rancourt Revisited

Nearly 40 years ago, I acquired my first pair of camp moccasins–the classic L.L. Bean model, made in the United States. I wore them at least a couple times a week for seven years until they were literally falling apart, the upper and sole only held together by a liberal swath of electrical tape.

In the intervening years, a new camp moccasin never found its way into my sartorial orbit. I avoided them largely because my feet are a full size and a half different in length, making a slip on shoe a challenging proposition.

But I knew Rancourt as a viable option for folks with my sizing issues. Four years ago, I purchased a pair of penny loafers from Rancourt, and they imposed only a modest upcharge to make a pair with shoes of two different sizes. Those of you who have followed our companion Instagram account know that those loafers are among the most treasured items I own.

So, with the current pandemic placing a premium more casual styles, I decided to pull the trigger on a pair of Rancourt camp mocs: an 8E for the left and a 9.5D for the right. For a custom order, they arrived exceedingly fast, in less than a month.

They are truly outstanding–with the kind of craftsmanship I’ve come to expect from Rancourt. Comfortable right out of the box, they’re a perfect shoe for a walk about town (with face mask, of course).

Libbey

There is nothing so ideal a capstone to a day than the imbibing of an evening cocktail. The cocktail can be celebratory. It can be restorative. It can be a bulwark against the quotidian, an expression of mood or an emblem of good taste.

My wife and I are ardent fans of cocktails, both in their classic iterations and in modern interpretations of the art. We often make them at home, relying upon the traditional conically shaped cocktail glass.

Increasingly, we’ve noticed the better cocktail bars we frequent leaning more toward the coupe glass. Most of us know it as an alternative to the champagne flute for sparkling libations.

But it confers a couple of advantages for cocktails, only one of them aesthetic. Where the traditional cocktail glass is susceptible to the drink sloshing out, the coupe glass does a better job of containing liquids.

So we sought out a set of coupe classes to add to our collection of cocktail paraphernalia.

Naturally, we wanted an American made version. Thus, to Libbey we turned, taking note of its Greenwich Coupe Glasses.

Libbey’s American made Signature Kentfield Estate All-Purpose Wine Glass is our go-to glass for most varieties of wine. A number of reviewers regard it as the best all around wine glass (see here and here), a well deserved plaudit.

Not everything Libbey sells is made domestically. But a number of its products are, including the coupe glasses we sought out.

Once the glasses arrived, we were eager to try them out. Our initial impression was quite favorable. They’re both functional and visually appealing.

I do have one small issue. If I had my druthers, I’d make the glasses just a bit smaller, as some cocktails, particularly those with three or fewer ingredients, have trouble filling the glass’s ample dimensions.

Otherwise, these are a fine addition to our bar.

Red Land Cotton

There are a handful of companies we patronize whose commitment to American manufacturing is all encompasing. They manufacture using raw materials sourced domestically.

Duckworth comes to mind, with its commitment to making outdoor clothing from the wool of sheep it raises in Montana. High Cotton is another example, with its made in North Carolina polo (sadly no longer available) which was crafted in North Carolina of cotton gown and woven in the Tar Hill State.

That kind of vertical integration stirs our hearts.

My wife and I were in the market for a new set of bed sheets. I had heard generally about Red Land Cotton as a source of American made bedding, but I knew little about them.

A quick search revealed that Red Land Cotton has an ironclad commitment to production in the United States. The cotton is grown in Alabama, spun and woven in South Carolina, finished in Georgia and finally sewn back in Alabama.

So we pulled the trigger on a set.

Red Land Cotton has four sheet set options: a basic set, a hem-stitched set, a lace-trimmed set and a ticking stripe set. We opted for the ticking stripe because of the visual interest it provides, especially when paired with a solid color blanket.

My initial impression is quite favorable. First of all, they look beautiful. The construction appears first-rate, and the sheets are reasonably soft.

Sheets are one of those items that wear out quickly. I can still remember from childhood the sets of worn out sheets we re-appropriated as Halloween ghost costumes, painting drop cloths or makeshift backyard tents.

But our Red Land Cotton sheets have a seeming durability that suggests years more use than a typical set. We’re looking forward to thousands of nights nestled in these.

Stars and Stripes Collective

Regular readers among you will know that, of late, a decent American made polo shirt has become something of our white whale.

In the past, the gold standard was the made in North Carolina pique polo from High Cotton. Although High Cotton is still going strong, with a firm footed commitment to American manufacturing, it no longer offers the polo shirt.

Another option was from Austin based Criquet Shirts. I’ve lost about fifteen pounds since my original Criquet polo shirt purchases in size medium, so I reached out to Criquet to purchase a few in small. By the time I was in the market for a less voluminous version, however, I found that Criquet had completely abandoned any pretense of commitment to making its clothes in the United States.

So color me surprised when I discovered that Stars and Stripes Collective, a Wisconsin-based retailer trafficking exclusively in American made goods, had a modest supply of the domestically made polo shirts from Criquet.

American made polo shirt from Criquet (purchased from Stars and Stripes Collective)

I follow Stars and Stripes’ exploits on Instagram, and I’m enthralled with their ironclad commitment to selling wares made in the U.S. They sell both online and in their shop located in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.

Stars and Stripes had its genesis in a challenge a couple made to one another. They resolved to buy only American made products for a few months. Those few months grew into years, and they began charting their commitment on social media. They graduated from social media partisans for domestic manufacturing to owners of their own shop.

Red Wing Heritage

I’m not sure when I first noticed them.

A couple of years back, Red Wing stores started sprouting up in my region with surprising regulatory. A cursory Google Maps search tells me that 11 standalone Red Wing stores now populate the Houston metropolitan area.

Given Red Wing’s commitment to American manufacturing, that development warms my heart.

My wife and I had occasion to visit one of those stores last year. Followers of Red Wing’s Instagram page that we are, we took note of a post that featured a pair of women’s boots, the Clara, a model from the company’s Heritage line.

So, on our visit, my wife tried on a pair. We were bowled over. They looked both stylish and tough as nails–a rare combination in women’s footwear. Buying them was a no-brainer.

So far, she’s worn them with jeans, with trousers, with dresses and with skirts. All to wonderful effect.

I too have pair of Red Wing Boots: a chukka that calls to mind the original Clarks Desert Boots: tan suede uppers, rubber sole, etc.

Red Wing chukka boots

Red Wing got its start in 1905. The company grew quickly, so much so that by 1917 it was the principal supplier of boots for the U.S. military in World War I.

Today, Red Wing manufactures most of its footwear in two domestic locations: Red Wing, Minn. and Potosi, Mo. While the company’s commitment to American production is not complete (some models are made overseas), we’re grateful that it has largely stayed true to its American roots.

Dador Havana

We are dedicated partisans for American manufacturing. But our commitment isn’t predicated on a sense of national chauvinism. It’s instead a hunger for localism, a desire to purchase goods that are produced in the communities where we live, work and play.

That’s true as well for the countries we visit. While there, we seek out those enterprises trying, against the odds, to design and make clothing in a local context.

My wife and I recently took a trip to Havana, Cuba. We traveled to “Support the Cuban People”, one of twelve categories under which U.S. nationals are allowed to visit Cuba. We were intrigued by the possibility of interacting with Cuban cuentapropistas, local entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of the government’s slightly more liberal attitude toward small scale private enterprise.

Those enterprises take several forms. They’re casas particulares, rooms for rent in peoples houses, many of which are now listed on Airbnb. They’re paladores, privately owned restaurants with interesting takes on local cuisine. And they’re among a collection of burgeoning shops with a commitment to local production and design.

During Cuba’s “Special Period“–the lean, desperate time following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its primary Cold War benefactor–domestic manufacturing of clothing went belly up.

In recent years, however, new voices have emerged on the Cuban style scene. The first was Clandestina, a clothing shop with slick, modern, playful vibe, the kind of enterprise you might find in the hippest corners of Austin, Portland or Brooklyn. Its name, in fact, is a play on the black market clothing shops–tiendas clandestinas–that popped up in the aftermath of the Special Period.

What really caught our eye, however, was a newcomer to the Cuban fashion scene: Dador. Established in 2018, Dador is the collective brainchild of three Cuban designers: Lauren Fajardo, Ilse Antón and Raquel Janero. The shop’s aesthetic is defined by a casual elegance, evocative of its island roots. Everything is produced in its upstairs workshop.

During our visit, my wife purchased a top from Dador’s Malecon collection. It’s an exceptionally well designed piece, made out of a horizontally striped blue and cream linen, with cap sleeves and red buttons down each side. Living in the subtropics that we do, it’s an ideal additional to her spring, summer and early autumn wardrobe.

I admire Dador not only for its impeccable sense of style and its commitment to local production, but also for its perseverance in the face of daunting obstacles. Despite the slightly more favorable entrepreneurial environment in Cuba, doing business there is still notoriously difficult. Depending on the caprice of governmental authorities, private enterprise can quickly fall out of favor, resulting in a regulatory crackdown that makes private sector economic activity all but impossible.

Against these odds, Dador has emerged. If you find yourself in Havana, I strongly recommend you pay them a visit.

Kiel James Patrick Redux

Back in 2012, a minor Internet kerfuffle erupted over a belt Lands End offered on its website. Many observers noted that it was strikingly similar to one Kiel James Patrick had been selling.

Understandably, Kiel James Patrick’s owner was apoplectic. While fashion designs cannot be copyrighted, he bemoaned that state of affairs, waving the banner of local production:

“It broke my heart to have customers, friends and family send me link after link this past week to Lands’ End’s e-commerce site. There was my creation being sold at a fraction of the cost simply by sacrificing quality, originality and integrity of local production. I couldn’t have felt more discouraged on my mission to continue designing original products and sustaining my American production.”

For years, his namesake company has been a steady and reliable source of classic clothing, manufactured in the United States. In fact, the very first item we featured in these parts was one of the company’s New England made scallop oxfords.

A couple of years ago, my wife was in the market for a nice winter dress. She ended up purchasing one in navy plaid from the company’s Cozy Cabin Flannel line–made of course in the United States.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the company’s clothing line is, as far as I can tell, increasingly bereft of American made items. Nearly everything seems to be “Imported”–a craven descriptor that tells you everything you need to know about how thoroughly Kiel James Patrick has jettisoned it’s commitment to “local production.”

The hypocrisy galls.

Frank Clegg Leatherworks

When humans first began gathering into early manifestations of civilization, pouches made of animal hide were essential in helping us carry useful items: a few spare arrowheads, a bit of dried food, a drill, a scraper, a small amulet.

That impulse, of course, has not left us.

Enter the venerable handbag. Those of us not among the fairer sex can be forgiven for assuming pockets would do the job of holding everything a woman needs. But women’s clothing is notoriously bereft of usable pockets.

As I’ve indicated before, my wife generally eschews purses. When we go out, particularly for a nice cocktail or to go dancing, she relies on me to Sherpa her lipstick and ID. Anything else, on such an outing, she finds generally superfluous.

But there are times, either for form or for function, that she carries a purse.

And with her current purse, an inexpensive hand me down, nearing the end of its useful life, she wanted a handbag from the upper echelon of craftsmanship, something that would last her well into her emeritus years.

For a fleeting moment, we considered J.W. Hulme. But when we discovered that it had begun outsourcing a good deal of its production, we demurred.

A cursory internet search brought Frank Clegg into our orbit. Frank Clegg has been around since 1970, making many varieties of leather goods in its Fall River, Mass. workshop. I could summarize the company’s history myself, but I think it does an admirable and charming job itself:

In 1970, Frank Clegg … had been given a set of leather tools from his girlfriend as a Christmas gift. In time, his girlfriend became his wife, and the toolset became the seed for a brand that has set the benchmark for fine leather bags and accessories for over 40 years. A generation later, Frank Clegg with his two sons, Andrew and Ian, have continued the legacy of what is now known as Frank Clegg Leatherworks. From a restored mill built in historic Fall River, Massachusetts, they and their team of specialized artisans handcraft the finest leather goods in America.

And that last line is no idle boast. I should note that the ladies at the PurseForum have a particular fondness for Clegg’s handbags–one even calling them “the closest thing to nirvana”–noting that they represent a value far in excess of their price range.

My wife picked the Lilly Shoulder Bag in cognac. After we placed the order, it took about four weeks for Clegg to make the handbag and send it our way.

Its dimensions are fairly modest–given the paucity of items my wife carries, a perfect size. And the construction and materials are absolutely first rate. It’s now her primary handbag, and for good reason.