All posts by Dave

American Blanket Company

Note: At the request of the American Blanket Company, we were given a complementary blanket to review.

I was prepared not to like it. I really was.

It’s not that I’m implicitly contrarian. But a healthy skepticism has prompted me to be wary of the proverbial gift horse.

It started thusly: A couple of months ago, I received an email. A representative from the American Blanket Company offered to send me one of their American made blankets to review.

Longtime readers (both of you) will remember that we have  generally shied away from accepting freebies.

And we’ve done so for a simple reason: Reviewing only things we’ve spent our hard earned money on hones our objectivity. It enables us to look at American made goods with a critical eye, avoiding any conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

But, in this case, we made an exception.

That’s partially because my wife and I already have a cotton blanket, and we weren’t in the market for another. Had we been, we might have purchased one on our own.

So we decided to take the good folks at the American Blanket Company up on their offer.

Perusing the website, we learned that the American Blanket Company offers two kinds of blankets: fleece and cotton, and fleece seems to be its bread and butter.

But we weren’t interested in the fleece blankets. Those are made from fabric sourced overseas, despite the availability of American made options. Its cotton blankets, however, are made exclusively from domestic cotton, which is vastly preferable to those of us who treasure goods produced by American hands.

The cotton blankets come in two weaves: chevron and cable; we opted for the former.

Once it arrived, my skepticism went into overdrive. A free blanket was, after all, too good to be true.

Upon first inspection, however, I noted that it was impeccably made, the cotton luxurious with a thick, sumptuous hand. I put it on the bed and waited for nighttime to arrive.

So, after a few months of use, how has it held up?

In a word, it has been outstanding. It’s an ideal weight as the primary blanket for the summer, and I anticipate it will do excellent duty as a middle layer for winter sleep. A couple of washings have not dimmed its luster.

As a basis of comparison, our previous cotton blanket was a made in Maine version from L.L. Bean–a fine blanket in many respects, but somewhat more susceptible to snags than the American Blanket Company version. The Bean version is also a bit thinner, less versatile during the winter months.

Kudos to the American Blanket Company for making such an exceptional product, one that we can recommend without reservation.

Ceibo Handbags

My wife does not like handbags.

I can see her point.

You’re out dancing? A handbag, slung across the body, is an albatross. Leave the bag at the table or on a bar hook, and you risk pilferage from nefarious souls.

When all you need is a lipstick, a phone, an ID, a credit card and a little cash, a handbag is overkill–literal useless baggage.

So, when we’re out, I’m her Sherpa, stowing the few things she needs in my pockets.

But once every blue moon, my wife encounters a handbag whose charms are more aesthetic than practical.

Last week, we visited Launch, a curated compendium of Houston-based designers and artists located on the rapidly gentrifying eastern edge of downtown. During our visit, we came across a collection of vegan handbags, all made in Houston, from an enterprise called Ceibo.

My wife was instantly smitten.

She ended up selecting the Mini Circle Gold Ring bag in fuchsia, taken by its modernist whimsy. It didn’t hurt matters that she and I had just finished binge watching the Magnificent Mrs. Maisel, so visions of mid century modernism were still dancing in our heads.

Ceibo (named after the tree native to parts of South America) is the creation of Maria Cadena, a self-taught designer who moved to Houston from Ecuador in 2014. She started designing women accessories nine years ago. Today, every bag Ceibo sells is handcrafted by Maria in her Houston home.

Flamingo Urban

A few months ago, while doing a cursory web search for purveyors of American made goods, I came across American Boheme, which bills itself as “a revolving collection of … clothing, fashion, boheme dresses and styles all made in the USA.

My wife perused the web site, and she was able to find a couple of items to her liking. One of those was a maxi dress from a brand called Flamingo Urban. (The dress is apparently no longer available on American Boheme’s web site.)

It has a Breton style top (with three quarter length sleeves) and an attached paisley skirt. Classic in every way.

In truth, that dress seems to be something of an anomaly for Flamingo Urban. I’ve scoured the web to see what else the brand offers. While I’m sorry to say this, most of what I’ve seen with the Flamingo Urban imprimatur can be summed up in one word: frumpy.

I realize this is a somewhat harsh assessment, but we’ve committed to an uncompromising look at American made goods on this blog. So, for now, we’ll do well to celebrate a diamond in the rough.

Alex Crane

Many of the makers we’ve featured on Classic American Style see their efforts through the lens of sacrifice. They continue to manufacture in the United States even when it would be vastly more financially expedient to outsource.

But there’s a growing subset of companies who embrace American manufacturing for its practical benefits.

Alex Crane is one of those.

This Brooklyn-based designer manufactures in the United States with a resolutely pragmatic eye. The company sums that perspective up thusly:

In all honesty, it (manufacturing in the United States) was a choice born of practicality, and not of any patriotic sensibilities. As small business owners, we’ve enjoyed being close to our manufacturers, both physically and personally. That we can take a subway train to visit one of our manufacturers not only allows us to be more hands on and involved in our production, but also enables us to develop relationships of greater dept with the very people who are cutting and sewing our garments.

Alex Crane cut his teeth as a bag designer for Jack Spade. In 2016, he set out on his own, launching the first elements of his collection.

He traffics principally in linen, one of summer’s essential fabrics, particularly for those of us who live in close proximity to the equator. Derived from the flax plant, linen’s propensity to wrinkle gives it an easy, lived in charm.

I recently purchased one of Alex Crane’s linen Playa Shirts, a pine green button down. The fabric is sumptuous, almost buttery in feel, with a thickness unusual for most linen shirts.

I will say that the collar roll is a bit idiosyncratic, with the buttons pushed out a bit farther than traditional, but some might suggest that gives the shirt a left-of-center charm.

The shirts are intended to be worn with matching linen shorts, a union that the New York Times recently called “a deconstructed take on linen ‘suits…'” I’m a bit agnostic on this combination, although I could see myself deploying the shorts on their own with an oxford cloth button down.

A note about the sizing: I’m 5’11” tall and ordered the small, which is listed on the Alex Crane website as having a 42″ chest. However, when it arrived, it was clear that the chest was more modest in dimension; it measured only 39.5″, a half inch smaller than the listed measurements for an extra small. The shirt still fit me, giving me the more fitted look I prefer. I’m not sure if this is an anomaly, or if all the shirts have this disparity between listed and actual size.

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.