The regular readers of this blog will know us as devoted practitioners of the art of thrifting. Economical? Yes. But it’s also an ideal way to source goods that were produced in the United States before the exodus of manufacturing to foreign locales.
Earlier today, Frannie and I scoured the racks at the local Goodwill. I found a pair of new-with-tags Italian cashmere socks, and Frannie scored a vintage J.G. Hook tartan skirt of unknown provenance.
I also purchased a beautiful woven Hickey Freeman tie and a box of Crane’s stationary, both made in the USA.
For me, Christmas came sporadically. Gifts arrived in the mail in and out of the holiday season, all of them wonderful. One package from my aunt and uncle especially caught my eye. My aunt skillfully picked out a fabulous green and pink paisley Vera Bradley bag, along with a few notebooks (of which I am oh so fond of). The bag just happened to be made in the good ol’ USA.
Sadly, in about 2011, the Vera Bradley company moved the majority of its manufacturing to third world countries, but a few gems still are made domestically. I have a few bags and small purses from Vera Bradley, and I’m proud to say that most were made in America.
This bag has many pockets and zippers that will come in handy. The quilted stitching is well-done and is a beautiful touch to the already intricate fabric print, which not only includes paisleys, but also some mandala-ish designs as well. Overall, this is a high-quality bag that I look forward to using in the future!
The poet Theodore Roethke once wrote, “I dream of journeys repeatedly.”
It’s a common human impulse–to advance beyond the quotidian demands of our lives, to immerse ourselves in cultures other than our own, wide-eyed and curious, travelers in the great human drama.
And anyone who has ever shared Roethke’s dream knows that a good bag is a must for any seasoned traveler.
The Wood & FaulkNorthwesterner–made in Portland of leather and waxed canvas–is a sterling example. Small enough to nestle securely in an airplane’s overhead bin but large enough to accommodate all of a gentleman’s basic material needs, it’s the ideal bag for anything from a simple overnight trip to a minimalist multi-day excursion.
The bag comes in a variety of sizes (12″, 16″ and 20″) and color combinations. Mine–one of this year’s Christmas presents–is the 20″ gray cotton with tan leather. In truth, the leather is a little deeper and richer in color than tan connotes, closer in shade to cognac.
At first blush, it’s a remarkable bag, and I’m looking forward to a lifetime of journeys with it by my side.
The moccasin has as solid an American pedigree as you’ll find. The footwear of North America’s aboriginal peoples–its name, in fact, comes from the Algonquin word makasin–it was a sturdy and reliable piece of footwear, particularly for tribes who needed protection from the winter elements.
Over time, the moccasin insinuated itself into European-American culture, first on the feet of early American outdoorsmen. In the post war era, it regained popularity as a comfortable casual shoe for millions of vacation-hungry Americans.
Made from the tough hide of animals like buffalo, moose and deer, the moccasin typically has soft sole with a U-shaped vamp, although a number of modern versions have fused the traditional leather moccasin upper with a harder rubber sole.
One of America’s finest purveyors of hand-stitched moccasins is Wassookeag Moccasins, a shoemaking concern out of Dexter, Maine. For two generations, Dexter was home to the eponymous shoe company, a solidly managed enterprise that cratered after its acquisition by Warren Buffet.
As my feet are different sizes, (the right a 9.5D and the left an 8E), I’ve never been able to partake in slip-on shoes, whether loafers, boat shoes or moccasins. Wassookeag provided a solution to that conundrum.
Because they don’t begin making your shoes until you order them, there’s no additional charge to get the correct size for each foot. In essence, a Wassookeag moccasin is a made-to-order product, with a bevy of choices for leather, color, lining and sole.
This Christmas, I found a pair of buffalo hide, deerskin-lined Wassookeag moccasins under the tree. They are truly a thing of beauty, an emblem of American craftsmanship at its finest. Not only are they made by American hands, but they are also constructed of materials sourced exclusively from American suppliers.
The year is 1980. Two young brothers, ages 12 and 10, are cajoling their parents for a pair of Birdwell Beach Britches, the swimtrunks made by the eponymous California company.
The trunks cost a bit more than other swimwear, but eventually the brothers’ incessant badgering pays off. Two pair of Birdwell trunks are purchased from the local surf and swim shop, and they are pressed into almost daily service that summer.
Birdwell got its start in 1961 when Carrie Birdwell Mann began sewing the two-ply nylon trunks in her Santa Ana living room. They quickly gained traction among the surfing cognoscenti in Southern California.
In the company’s more than half century of existence, it has never wavered in its commitment to American production; every pair of trunks is still lovingly and expertly produced in Santa Ana, California by seamstresses, many of whom have been with the company for more than 30 years. And for that, it should be well and truly commended.
This Christmas, my mother revisited that page from my youth, buying me a pair of Birdwells (here in Southeast Texas, a pair of swimtrunks is not nearly the kind of outlandish gift idea it would be in our country’s northern latitudes). They’re the original 301 style in the federal blue color (also known as air force or post office blue). And they are everything that I remember: durable, comfortable and enduringly stylish.
As it’s now scarf weather in much of the country, I thought I’d highlight this vintage tartan Pendleton scarf I found while thrifting earlier this year. Thrift stores are often a treasure trove of American made classics.
Although Pendleton, a once venerable producer of American made woolens, has begun the headlong rush into overseas manufacturing, its scarves continue to be produced in the USA.
The hand-rolled edge is one of the Platonic forms of the well-made pocket square.
Yet American-made squares are almost completely bereft of hand-rolled edges. Kent Wang is about the only option I’ve found, and only some of his squares are American made.
Has our cultural memory evaporated? Are there really that few of us capable of sewing a hand-rolled edge on a pocket square? I tried it once, and yes, the results were resolutely amateurish. But by the time I reached the final edge, I could see myself, even with my stubby butcher’s hands, eventually getting the hang of it.
Despite my reservations, I decided to dip my toe into the waters of American made pocket squares, ordering one from Harrison Blake. Established earlier this year, the company offers a number of products, including pocket squares, floral lapel pins, neckties and other accessories. The pocket squares, however, are the only items I could find on the website that were made in the USA.
The chambray shirt is a true classic, described by GQ as “timelessly American.” It’s the original blue collar shirt, its fabric associated with the hard working Americans on whose backs this country was built.
Like many timeless classics, the chambray shirt’s origin is military. Through the Second World War, it was standard issue for U.S. sailors. After the war, college students on the G.I. Bill pressed their chambray shirts into civilian service–just as their army counterparts did with their khaki trousers.
A trip last weekend to Manready Mercantile brought a chambray shirt into my orbit. Remembering that I was fond of Flint and Tinder’s products, they showed me some of the company’s recent arrivals, which included chambray shirts in blue and gray.
As someone who hasn’t purchased a long sleeved shirt off-the-rack in more than a decade, I was skeptical. Despite my preference for custom shirts from Houston’s Hamilton Shirts, I’ve tried in vain to find off the rack button downs that fit. But the results have always been less than satisfying: sleeves too long and body too voluminous for my 5’11” frame, even in a size medium.
But the Flint and Tinder chambray shirt–made in Philadelphia–was none of those. It was slim enough to avoid looking tent-like in proportion but with enough room for movement. The sleeves met the shoulders at precisely the right point. And the lightweight fabric promised use throughout our Southeast Texas summers.
We don the pink ribbon to show our dedication to helping eradicate breast cancer. A yellow ribbon spanning the circumference of the front yard oak expresses our hope for a soldier’s safe return.
But for those of us who yearn to tout our commitment to American workers, where to turn? Barring some ostentatious and inappropriate use of the American flag, up until now, symbolic options were virtually non-existent.
Dedicated partisans for American manufacturing that they are, the good folks at Flint and Tinder have done something to rectify this. They called upon one of America’s few remaining shoelace manufacturers to produce a special pair of laces.
Called the Bluelace Project, this partnership provides a symbol to announce one’s commitment to buying products made in the USA. Many retailers have demurred at the prospect of adding U.S. made goods to their shelves, believing falsely that Americans won’t pay a premium for the exceptional products made in their own country. The Bluelace Project aims to prove them wrong, providing a visible symbol of our resolve to invest in American made items.
And oh they are an impressive product. Triple braided, double waxed, with aluminum tips (or aglets in the parlance of shoelace making). An item made this well is a fitting symbol for American manufacturing.