Leather Man Ltd.

During the work week, I’m partial to suspenders (braces in the British parlance) and have all my suit trousers made with a fishtail back and suspender buttons.

But on the weekends, I sport a belt. So all my odd trousers, whether bespoke or off-the-rack, are made with with belt loops.

Yet a belt need not be a simple concoction of leather and brass. Motif  belts can add a certain insouciance to an outfit.  They’re a chance to express one’s individuality or to declare kinship with fellow aficionados of a particular activity.

I recently purchased one of the Tab & Buckle Motif belts from Leather Man Ltd. Made in Essex, Connecticut, they’re a very nice product at a very reasonable price, with the added benefit of being essentially a custom product. You choose the accent option (the motif or design), the color of cotton webbing and the leather and buckle option. It took about two weeks for my belt to be sewn and shipped.

They offer a wide variety of motifs. Alas, penguins were not among the choices. But, in the absence of a penguin, a puffin will do just fine.

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Royall Mandarin

About scent, I’m particular. Rare is the fragrance that stirs my soul. So I’ve gone years at a time without adding cologne to my daily routine.

Earlier this year, for my birthday, my family gave me a bottle of Royall Mandarin, one of the line of made-in-the-USA fragrances from Royall Lyme Bermuda. Truth be told, I had been coveting a bottle of the fragrance for some time.

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Although I find it much to my liking, it’s not a fragrance that receives universal approbation. I’ve heard complaints that it doesn’t last over the course of the day. This, however, has not been my experience, as I’ve detected hints of the scent a full 12 hours later.

Because I’m judicious in the amount I use each morning (two small sprays), the bottle will endure for several years more, even in the face of almost daily use.

Pendleton Woolen Mills

If you had to pick one item of clothing to represent the United States, the Pendleton shirt would be an ideal choice. It’s as iconic an item of clothing as you’ll find. Fiercely egalitarian, it was just as likely to be found on the backs of Southern California surfers as it was to be worn by New England old money.

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Before they were the Beach Boys, they were the Pendletones.

Pendleton began in 1909, making blankets with Native American motifs. By 1924, it introduced the men’s shirt. Five years later, it was offering a full range of menswear. Women’s clothing followed in 1949.

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Slowly, however, Pendleton is succumbing to the virus of foreign production. Many items are still made in the USA, its blankets in particular. But the tartan shirts, so prized among collectors, are no longer sewn on these shores, although the fabric is still woven here.

Which is a shame.

Still, for those of us so inclined, thrift stores, resale shops and vintage boutiques are not lacking for the original made-in-the-USA  shirts. Over a couple of decades of collecting, I’ve picked up several, as well as a couple of jackets and a robe. I’ve passed some of these on to Andrew and Frannie.

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Andrew sporting a vintage 50s Pendleton
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Yours truly in a 1940s Pendleton

 

Ralph Lauren Deck Shoes

Among all the brands that embrace an American aesthetic, Ralph Lauren is probably the most egregious in its betrayal of American manufacturing. So much of what his company makes (outside of the Purple, Black and upper Blue label) floats along on the effluent of Third World production.

That’s why I’m always surprised when I find something American made with the Ralph Lauren imprint. A few years ago, it was a pair of silk suspenders. Yesterday, in one the Houston Marshalls stores, I came upon a pair of Ralph Lauren deck shoes, happily announcing their Made-in-Maine bonfides.

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Since Frannie’s deck shoes have bitten the dust, and we’ve yet to get her a replacement pair, we’ll take these up with us when we visit for parents weekend in October.

Yes, they’re orange. Very orange. But to me that’s a selling point. I think orange is an ideal accent, a perfect splash of color that enlivens almost any outfit.

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Random Find

Most of the items we feature on this blog are the product of significant research. We peruse other blogs for recommendations. We scour websites to find items that fill voids in our wardrobes. And we trawl thrift stores to unearth American-made castoffs from years past.

Occasionally, however, a bit of American-made goodness insinuates itself into our day, not by intention but by serendipity.

A few weeks ago, outside the Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Frannie and I happened upon a small shop. Outside, in a sales bin, were  packs of merino wool hiking socks, marked “Made in USA.” At $12 for a three-pack, they were too good a deal to pass up.

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They’re a mid-weight sock, ideal for hiking and backpacking in all but the coldest of conditions. Once prime hiking season kicks into gear in these parts (after the Southeast Texas heat relents), they’ll get a full workout.

Goosefeet Gear

The parka is one of the most quintessentially American of all garments–in the broader sense of the Americas, with its hemispheric reach from the top of Greenland to Cape Horn. In its sealskin and caribou incarnations, it protected the Inuit people from the often brutal cold in some of North America’s most extreme latitudes.

Earlier this year, I traveled to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Despite the mountain’s proximity to the equator, its elevation demands gear that will stand up to cold, wind and snow. My existing parka, with only modest warmth, was not up to the task.

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A picture of Kilimanjaro from my February climb
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Yours truly with Kilimanjaro in the background
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With one of my fellow climbers

Enter Goosefeet Gear, an American cottage maker of outdoor clothing. You won’t find parkas on the company’s website. But Ben will be more than happy to make you one on a custom basis, crafting a piece based upon your measurements, the amount of fill you need and want and your fabric preferences. And he’ll do all that at a price that’s competitive with ready-to-wear, American-made down parkas from Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends.

It’s a streamlined garment, with nary an unnecessary touch. Just a couple of outside pockets, drawstrings along the hood and waist, elasticized cuffs and a full front zipper.

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A VERY puffy parka

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Coming in at one pound on the dot, the parka boasts a full nine ounces of 850 fill power goose down (the new water resistant variety)–a remarkable ratio of warmth to weight. It is, in the parlance of our time, crazy warm.

So how did the parka stand up to the challenge of one of the world’s great mountains? Splendidly, I’m happy to report. I had call twice to use it: the first time for dinner at Barafu Camp when everyone seemed to be struggling to stay warm; the second on the way from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak on a snowy February summit morning.

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Wearing the parka on the summit

 

A Rant

We’ve tended to use the blog as a forum to celebrate rather than castigate. To highlight those companies who commit to American manufacturing rather than heap scorn upon those who relocate production to foreign shores.

But a recent experience demands our opprobrium.

Yesterday’s mail brought the new catalog from Brooks Brothers featuring its Red Fleece collection.

While there has been much to bemoan from Brooks Brothers over the past generation, there were a few bright spots in the catalog: made-in-the-USA partnerships with Red Wing, Kiel James Patrick and Filson; ties still manufactured domestically.

But these are the exception.

The bulk of the collection is still produced overseas, in what I have to suppose are less than savory locales. Items made in the USA, the United Kingdom and Italy are carefully marked as such. Other items hide behind the craven descriptor, “imported.”

I’m sure Brooks Brothers would claim that it’s perfectly satisfied with the working conditions in its overseas factories. Why then, I wonder, does it feel the need  to obfuscate behind that Orwellian label?

Still, this is standard-level outrage. Brooks Brothers is hardly alone in this practice.

Page 10 is where things really went south. A young couple are standing on a snow covered landscape. He is holding a pair of skis. She is holding a large American flag. Had Brooks Brothers finally begun to manufacture at least some of its women’s clothing in the USA?

Not on your life. Every stitch of clothing on that page was “imported.” So the flag belied the origins of the clothing and became nothing more than a meaningless prop.

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Made in America? You’d think. But you’d be wrong.

To use the American flag to sell goods not produced in the U.S. is more than a little deceptive. Whether it meets the legal definition of fraud I cannot say. But I do know it represents a serious ethical breach, an example of chicanery that a company like Brooks Brothers should have no part of. It misrepresents the clothes in a serious–and morally indefensible–way.

And, in a manner I’m certain the company did not intend, it symbolizes just how far Brooks Brothers has fallen. It stands as an ironic symbol of a faded past, an emblem of a company that has almost completely betrayed its American roots.

High Cotton, Part III

On our way to drop Frannie off at school, we stopped at High Cotton’s storefront in downtown Raleigh. Our previous High Cotton purchases were online purchases. So it was a genuine treat to have the chance to see the company’s wares in the flesh.

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Modest in dimensions, but elegant in presentation, the High Cotton store is a mecca of American-made elegance. Rows of cotton bow ties, stacks of polo shirts and drawers full of pocket squares and headbands await.

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Frannie perusing the headbands
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The headband of choice

While there, I purchased another polo shirt (pure North Carolina cotton) and a bow tie. Frannie got another head band, in cornflower blue with pink paisleys.

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Our haul
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High Cotton bow tie