When Ralph was American

Back in 2012, a not insubstantial brouhaha erupted, all because a certain collection of clothing was not made in the USA. Ralph Lauren was awarded the contract to design and produce outfits for U.S. athletes for the London Olympics opening ceremony.

Turns out, that everything the athletes wore was manufactured in China. As fashion designer Nanette Lepore astutely observed, “Why shouldn’t we have pride not only in the American athletes but in the American manufacturers and laborers who are the backbone of our country?”

Two years later, stung by criticism from both sides of the political divide, Ralph didn’t make the same mistake. The company’s outfits for the 2014 Winter Olympics all were made in the USA.

Still, the controversy symbolized just how far Ralph Lauren has fallen. Three decades ago, it would have been inconceivable that the company, rooted in an American look, would turn its back so completely on American manufacturing.

Ralph Lauren is as egregious an outsourcer as you’ll find. Their factories–located in countries rife with human rights abuses–routinely pay wages below the subsistence level.

Ralph Lauren is hardly alone in this. But they traffic in a definably American aesthetic, so their abdication of responsibility to American manufacturing is particularly galling. It’s hardly unreasonable to expect that definably American goods be produced here. The issue is one of cultural authenticity.

The company’s web site has this to say from the man himself: “I have always been inspired by the dream of America.” Better it would be if he took inspiration from the reality of his native land.

I have a couple of Ralph Lauren items made in the USA, and they stand as symbols of a legacy betrayed: a tie I purchased from a thrift store in Salida, Colorado and a pair of suspenders I found in a discount store a few years ago.

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Vintage Ralph Lauren tie, made in the USA

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Mod Cloth/Retrolicious

Whimsy is often an antidote to what T.S. Eliot once termed “the boredom and the horror” of life.

In fact, distinctly American clothing can be fairly whimsical. Vibrant Lilly Pulitzer prints, motif trousers and patch madras are just a few examples of traditional American garments at their most extroverted.

In my online excursions, I came across this American made skirt from Retrolicious–featuring a large printed fox motif–on the site Mod Cloth. I sent Frannie an online missive with a link to the skirt, and she raved.

Much of what Mod Cloth offers skews away from truly classic clothing; it caters more to aficionados of vintage clothing. But, since vintage styles harken to an idealized point in American fashion, a number of Mod Cloth offerings would fit very well in a classic wardrobe.

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Grover

In its own words, Los Angeles-based Grover “caters to the creative and stylish man who cares about craftsmanship and authenticity.”

Located in LA’s Arts District, Grover is a boutique maker of menswear specializing in such basics as boxer shorts, t-shirts and gymwear. All of its products are made in the United States.

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to pick up a pair of Grover boxer shorts from Manready Mercantile in Houston. We’ll have more about Manready Mercantile–a local purveyor of American-made goods–in a future blog post.

While I haven’t had the chance yet to wear the shorts, the cotton is sumptuous and inviting and the construction appears top notch.

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Peter Field

There’s a certain tension in this blog.

On one level, we’re promotional–at least in general terms. We showcase companies who continue to manufacture classic styles domestically. While there’s no remuneration for that work, we’re passionate about it.

But we’re also consumers. And so we approach what we buy with a critical eye.

Where promotion and criticism come into conflict, we have to err on the side of criticism. To promote products and makers who do not live up to a reasonable standard of quality would be a disservice to what meager readership we have.

A recent experience is illustrative.

When I first discovered Chicago-based Peter Field, I was excited to learn that the company, which has only been a going concern for a few years, manufactures all of its wares in the United States, many of those in house.

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The company offers ties, pocket squares, bags, portfolios and various leather goods.

A good glen check tie is my white whale. It’s been years since I found one to my liking, and, in a bit of misplaced parsimony, I declined to purchase it at the time.

So when I saw that Peter Field was offering a couple of different varieties for sale, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I opted for the Syderstone tie. It’s a wool black and white plaid with a red overcheck.

For a mere $10 more, Peter Field will customize your tie (which the website says takes between seven and ten days). Being the traditionalist that I am, I opted for a 3.5″ width, a bit broader than the company’s standard 2.75″ width.

I ordered my tie on September 16th. On September 29th, I called to check on the status of my order. Since the tie had not already been sent, I asked for them to delay shipping until October 6th, as I was going to be out of town for nearly a week. They graciously agreed. On October 14th, with the tie not yet in hand, I called again to check on the status of the order. Apparently, they had mistakenly noted October 13th as the shipping date.

When the tie arrived, it was less than satisfactory. It did not adequately taper up from its widest part, resulting in excess fabric both around the knot and along the collar. This made the tie impossible to conceal around the neck once the collar was folded down. It was a rookie mistake–as if they simply took one of their narrow ties and expanded it proportionately, even when those proportions violated the basic tenets of tie shape and design.

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The Peter Field tie (bottom) compared with a Turnbull & Asser tie. This is the section that wraps around the neck, clearly too wide on the Peter Field tie.

So I contacted Peter Field with pictures comparing the tie with an existing tie from my collection. Three days later I heard back. They agreed that some adjustments needed to be made and asked if I could pin or tape the tie where it was too wide.

I was a little taken aback; was I really being asked to guide a tiemaker on the particulars of constructing a tie? Instead of subjecting the process to the inconsistencies of my pinning acumen, I sent an existing tie (one compromised by an intractable stain) to serve as a template.

In the same e-mail, I was promised a return UPS or FedEx label within 24 hours. Why one couldn’t have been sent with that original e-mail was beyond me. Regardless, three days transpired before I was e-mailed the label.

So how is the tie?

In a word, adequate. The fabric and pattern are nice, but the construction is less than perfect; it seems more the product of someone just learning the craft. It also knots a little idiosyncratically, but that actually gives it a bit of charm.

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It saddens me to have to say this, but I’m afraid we have to deny Peter Field our recommendation. They are, in my opinion, neither¬† competent to deliver a adequate product without significant¬† guidance nor capable of handling customer service concerns in a timely fashion (or at least not in as timely a fashion as they promise).