I’m about to make a pronouncement that may surprise the regular readers of this blog: the finest ties in the world are not made in the United States, although they used to be (more on that in a moment).
Nor, however, are they made in England or Italy.
No, my friends, the best ties in the world are made in the homonymically-appropriate Thailand.
I’m not talking about the mass produced garbage that we commonly associate with manufacturing in the developing world. I’m talking instead about a bespoke product.
The good folks at Sam Hober offer ties in a dizzying array of fabrics, with a broad range of options for length, width and construction. Like a thicker knot? They’ll vary the heft of the interlining to help you out. A tall gent who needs a longer tie? They’ve got you covered.
Originally Sam Hober ties were made in the United States. They moved, if I recall, for reasons of family and not, as you might expect, for financial expediency. Despite that relocation, the ties continue to be made to an impeccable standard.
The one featured here was made before the move, from a robust English silk. It’s easily one of my three or four favorite ties.
In an earlier post, we bemoaned the dearth of American made pocket squares with hand-rolled edges. Kent Wang has a few, but those are the exception.
And frankly, without a hand-rolled edge, a square of silk, linen, cotton or wool fabric is little more than a handkerchief. It’s that edge that makes a pocket square.
Being purely decorative, a pocket square calls to mind Carl Sandberg’s admonition, “Bring me only beautiful, useless things.”
About a month ago, I came upon a blog with the enticing title, “I Make Things.” The proprietor of said blog, Thomas Tkach, crafts by hand a few men’s accessories–ties and pocket squares prominent among those. Many employ fabric culled from other items (pocket squares from old scarves, for example).
I was fortunate to purchase three pocket squares (each with the aforementioned hand-rolled edge) from Thomas: a silk neat, a red madras and a multi-color seersucker. The madras and seersucker won’t see the light of day until spring arrives, but the silk neat will get immediate use.
It’s a true joy to find people like Thomas, hobbyists essentially, who keep alive the flame of individual craftsmanship, calling to mind that earlier age when much of what we wore was sewn in the home. While I sense that Thomas has no intention of making this talent his career, it would be a sad thing indeed if he denied the world his gifts.
A beautiful January day for Frannie at school, and here she is wearing her Kiel James Patrick scallop oxford and her Demoiselle pearls (both made lovingly in America) along with an L.L. Bean Norwegian cardigan.
We’ve not been shy about our intense affection for Houston’s Hamilton Shirts. The fine folks at Hamilton, in business since 1883, are paragons of good taste, and will always steer you in the right direction. But they also let a customer’s innate predilections shine through.
One of the button down shirts I ordered a few years ago is a case in point. It has no interlining, so it’s a very soft and casual collar, almost louche. But the roll still hews to the Platonic ideal of the button down, avoiding the spareness of dimension that has become quite the fad among button down collars of late.
Most of our features on this blog have lauded those makers who produce goods in the United States.
But what about those companies who sell those goods?
One such place is Sierra Trading Post. The company got its start in 1986 with a 16-page catalog of hand-drawn merchandise. By 1998, it made its first web presence. Over time, it’s digital footprint has grown substantially. Today, it’s part of the collection of brands in TJX Companies, which also includes Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.
I’m not going to lie to you. Sierra Trading Post sells a lot of made in China goods. A lot. But it’s completely up front about that. In fact, every product is meticulously tagged with the appropriate country of origin.
Contrast that with companies like Brooks Brothers, Lilly Pulitzer and L.L. Bean who hide their goods produced outside the United States and Western Europe behind the generic (and cowardly) tag “imported.”
You have to admire Sierra Trading Post for bucking that trend with its honesty.
Still, Sierra Trading Post has a decent collection of made in the USA products and makes it easy to find them. Bills Khakis, Filson, Gitman Brothers, Faribault Woolen Mill and Hickey Freeman are some of the more prominent American made brands you’ll find for sale on the company’s website.
Nicholas Antongiavanni, in his book The Suit, had this to say about the thin strips of silk that hold up a man’s trousers: “There has never been a well dressed man…who has not worn suspenders.”
Oscar Wilde, himself a dandy of no small renown, spoke similarly of the virtues of suspenders (braces in the British parlance) when he decreed that “trousers should hang from the shoulders, not the waist.”
When it comes to business dress, I share their predilection, and so I have all my suit trousers made with suspender buttons and fishtail backs.
Suspenders were added to men’s sartorial repertoire in the early part of the 19th century, when Albert Thurston developed the modern version. The British firm that bears his name makes suspenders to this day.
Among American makers of suspenders, Trafalgar is without peer. Its offerings include solids, stripes, paisleys, dots and checks.
But, in my humble opinion, the apotheosis of Trafalgar’s art can be found in its limited edition braces. They’re made by hand made on 200-year-old wooden looms that Trafalgar founder Marley Hodgson found in the 1970s. According to the company’s website, on these looms “even the most skilled craftsmen can only weave five yards of narrow silk fabric a day.”
I have a pair from the limited edition series with a vintage golf motif. Originally, suspenders were considered undergarments, to be concealed underneath a gentleman’s waistcoat. But these are not meant to hide their light under a bushel basket. With a vibrant pattern and whimsical design, they are made to be seen.
American Apparel, as we’ve said before, has been notorious for their sexual advertisements and tendencies to over-expose the female form, but their clothes, paired with the right pieces, can be ever so flattering and funky. I recently purchased a crop-top (bear with me) to be matched with my secondhand wool skirts, which happen to be quite high-waisted. The sweater is quite fuzzy and comfortable, with long sleeves and a wide neck. Here’s what it looks like:
I’m also happy to report that American Apparel has a unique paying structure. Workers start out at minimum wage, and the more they produce, the more money they earn, up to $18 per hour. As far as I see it, American Apparel values their employees by giving them fair wages, decent benefits and good working conditions. The Los Angeles factory even has a nursing station and massage therapy services.
While I disagree with the elder Junod, I can see the turtleneck’s virtues. It doesn’t simply frame the face; it serves as a pedestal on which a man’s visage rests.
I recently purchased a turtleneck from Ramblers Way Farm, the Kennebunk, Maine producer of wool clothing. It’s made of Rambouillet wool sourced from American ranches. While it isn’t quite as soft as Australian merino, the turtleneck’s fabric still has a relatively silky hand. Lightweight, it’s ideal for layering.
Ramblers Way was founded by Tom and Kate Chappell, the same couple who, in 1970, started Tom’s of Maine.
In many respects, Ramblers Way embodies everything a company should be.
Not only does Ramblers Way manufacture all of its products in the United States, but it also sources its wool domestically. With an ardent commitment to environmental stewardship, it makes every effort to minimize its ecological footprint. It uses wool only from sheep raised on organic farms with a strong concern for their welfare. And it contributes a slice of its profits to community, environmental and conservation causes.