American Giant

Among the great unwashed masses, sweatpants are an emblem of slovenly conformity disguised as laissez faire individualism–lowest common denominator clothes that you put on when, sartorially speaking, you’ve given up.

As Americans, we place a premium on personal space. But when we navigate the public commons, we enter a place of shared responsibility to one another. How we choose to attire ourselves is an essential expression of that responsibility.

So it’s more than a little strange that we’re featuring a pair of sweatpants on this blog, considering our tendency to inveigh against all they represent in today’s world.

Once upon a time, however, sweatpants were an essential part of a classic wardrobe, within the narrow range of their original function. In short, they were pant of choice for athletic endeavor in cold weather. You wore them as you bounded the track, imagining besting Roger Bannister’ mark. You wore them over your basketball uniform before the gym had a chance to heat up on cold northern mornings. And you wore them when you didn’t have to put on full pads for football practice.

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Roger Bannister. Sweatpants. Classic.

Frannie is the goalie for her school’s junior varsity soccer team and needed a pair of sweatpants for practice as the mercury sank into the mouth of the dying day. So to American Giant we turned.

Like many folks, I learned of American Giant when Farhad Manjoo proclaimed the company’s American made sweatshirt the “greatest hoodie ever made.” His approbation ignited a firestorm of demand, and the company had to work feverishly to ramp up production. After a few months, an equilibrium between demand and manufacturing capacity emerged, and American Giant began adding other offerings to its product line, including sweatpants.

Frannie, like so many in her generation, embraces sweatpants as de facto loungewear. Fortunately, she has enough sense of decorum to avoid subjecting the outside world to the sight of her wearing them.

Unlike most sweatpants, they have a nice, tapered look. They have deep pockets. And the medium weight fabric–super soft, in Frannie’s assessment–offers a nice compromise between comfort and warmth.

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Allen Edmonds Rutledge

Many of us enter this world with not insignificant physical burdens. A club foot of a particularly severe variety was the albatross around my infantile neck, and my parents, being diligent middle class souls, consulted with many a medical specialist to resolve this situation.

Within moments of my birth, a cast was affixed to my right leg in hopes of coaxing the pliable bones into some semblance of a normal position. In my early years, I wore a leg brace to bed. And a few months shy of my fifth birthday, a tendon transfer was a final nail in the club foot’s coffin.

The consequence, both of the defect itself and of the many efforts to correct it, is that my feet are different sizes: the right a 9.5D and the left an 8E. In the past, I’ve either had to settle for the larger size, lacing the left shoe a little tighter or have had to pay for two pair of shoes. Both options are less than ideal.

A trip to the Houston Allen Edmonds store a few months back offered an inspiring solution. Because Allen Edmonds is both a manufacturer and a seller of footwear, it’s able to product a made-to-order version of its shoes, with the correct size shoe for each foot–all for a modest $75 upgrade.

I had been eying the Rutledge–one of the shoes from Allen Edmonds’ Independence Collection–for some time, and I finally pulled the trigger. Along with its Independence brethren, the Rutledge is unique among Allen Edmonds’ offerings. It features the kind of narrow waist that seems more at home among high-end British and Italian shoes. The toe is elegantly chiseled. And the leather is of an exceptionally high quality.

I was originally quoted a timeframe of four to six weeks to receive the shoes. It was even hinted by the sales associate that a number of gentlemen received their shoes even earlier than that.

I was not so fortunate. My shoes took nearly nine weeks to arrive. Apparently, the first attempt failed inspection, and so they had to start again. While that was a bit frustrating, it was also somewhat reassuring to know that Allen Edmonds would not satisfy itself with shipping out a substandard pair of shoes.

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Optimo Hats

Since the summer of 2009, I’ve purchased three hats from Chicago’s Optimo Hats, arguably the leading maker of custom hats in the United States. One of those hats, a Montecristi Panama fedora, was in need of some serious TLC, so I sent it back to Chicago to be serviced.

They replaced the ribbon and the leather sweat band and cleaned and re-shaped the straw–in short, a complete renovation. The price was not insubstantial. But the results speak for themselves. It’s practically a brand new hat.

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There is one black mark with this most recent experience. It took nearly two weeks after Optimo received the hat for it to forward me an invoice–and only after I made a phone call. Once the work had been paid for, it took another four weeks to send the hat, despite the fact that I was originally given an estimate of 10 to 20 days to complete the work.

On one level, I hate to speak ill of a company that conjures such superlative products. But I believe that a failure to mention these missteps would be a serious omission on our part.

Brooks Brothers 7-Fold Tie

The seven-fold tie is the act of tie making elevated to high art. A true seven-fold is nothing more than a single piece of silk folded seven times, with no interlining. For those of us raised on the ubiquitous lined three-fold ties, a seven-fold tie is an idiosyncratic beast.

The know-how to make a seven-fold largely died out in the 1930s, both because of the Great Depression and the shortage of silk caused by the beginning of the war in East Asia. In the 1980s, Robert Talbott–another distinguished maker of American ties–reintroduced the seven-fold. Eventually, other makers followed suit.

Brooks Brothers advertises this as a seven-fold, although I think it’s actually a self-tipped six-fold, a variant which provides a bit more symmetry.

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Regardless, it’s an extraordinary piece of work. The dimple is deep and luxurious. It’s enticingly wide (a solid four inches). And the silk is truly sumptuous. This is what Brooks Brothers should aspire to; the company is at it’s best when it focuses more on things like this and less on the lowest-common-denominator clothing it’s been importing from China in recent years.

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Bills Khakis Seersucker

About a month and a half ago, I reported on a pair of seersucker trousers I purchased from Bills Khakis.

Having recently had cuffs put on the trousers (they come with an unfinished hem), I’m happy to report that they received their first wearing this weekend. As with everything I’ve purchased from Bills Khakis, they’re a sterling example of American craftsmanship at its finest.

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Pierrepont Hicks

The butterfly or the batwing?

For bow tie enthusiasts, its a perennial debate.

The butterfly, with its hourglass shape provides the body that some men prefer, while the batwing  offers the cleaner lines favored by others.

I’m partial to the butterfly and have been since my middle teen years, with only occasional dalliances with the batwing.

However, when I was at last week’s Northern Grade pop-up market in Houston, I stopped by the Pierrepont Hicks table. And there I saw a bevy of batwing bow ties. I was enticed, and so I bought one.

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The Pierrepoint Hicks table at the Houston Northern Grade pop-up marketplace

Let me say first that it’s a very well constructed tie. The cotton is both sumptuous and sturdy, important for giving a bow tie the  structure it need to avoid flopping like a pile of melting ice cream.

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But I’m not sure I’ve been convinced to betray my allegiance to the butterfly. The batwing’s a pretty narrow look, and I’m just not sure it suits me. But if you like a narrower bow tie–and plenty of men do, especially with today’s tapered aesthetic–then I strongly recommend you give Pierrepont Hicks a try.

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Pierrepont Hicks was started in 2009 by Katherine and Mac McMillan. They’re also the architects behind Northern Grade, the roving marketplace featuring American-made goodies.

Pierrepont Hicks sells a number of items (shoes, ties, outerwear and hats) for both men and women. All of those are happily made on these shores.

Hand & Hooks

The poet Theodore Roethke once wrote, “I dream of journeys repeatedly.”

It’s a common human impulse: to travel and set the rhythm of our lives to the cadence of unfamiliar places.

For the well traveled gentleman, few accessories are as indispensable as the venerable dopp kit. At its most prosaic, a dopp kit provides organizing space for men’s toiletries. It’s a trusty traveling companion, as vital a piece of kit for a weekend jaunt as it is for a multi-week expedition.

This past weekend, at the Northern Grade pop-up marketplace in Houston, I happened upon a wonderful American made dopp kit from Hand & Hooks. As I had lost my previous dopp kit a couple of years ago in Austin, I was in the market for a new one.

Hand & Hooks is the brainchild of Ben Cortez, a resident of San Diego by way of Galveston, Texas. My wife and I spent a few minutes conversing with Ben, and we found him to be completely delightful. He’s committed to American manufacturing, and he works to obtain all of his raw materials from American sources whenever he can.

My dopp kit is the Seafarers model, with a resolutely nautical theme. Happily, a portion of Ben’s proceeds from the sale of this item benefits the Seafarers Center in Galveston.

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It’s a truly wonderful product. The canvas is both durable and aesthetically engaging.  It’s so nice that it makes me want to invent excuses to travel just so I can press it into service.

Northern Grade

Northern Grade is not a manufacturer of American made goods. Nor, in fact, is it a storefront purveyor of said goods.

Instead, it is an organizer of a series of pop-up events featuring companies committed to American production. It calls itself “a roving marketplace for the best American-manufactured goods.”

A number of these have already occurred in cities across the country. Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the first such pop-up held in Houston. It took place in a warehouse space just east of Downtown.

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The Northern Grade American made pop-up in Houston

The dominant aesthetic was a bit more blue collar than I prefer, with  a surfeit of denim and cotton duck. Yet several companies had wares that would comfortably fit in a classic wardrobe. I picked up a cotton bowtie from Pierrepoint Hicks, a nautically-themed canvas dopp kit from Hand & Hooks, a Save Khaki shirt from Stag Provisions and a pair of Richer Poorer socks and some Portland General Store shave soap from Manready Mercantile (one of the sponsors of the event).

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The Manready Mercantile booth
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The Hand & Hooks booth
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Pierrepoint Hicks’ ties
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The Swag Provisions booth

The one dark spot was at the Filson booth. I noticed some nice looking chambray shirts, and I went over to take a look. To my dismay, the label read “Made in Sri Lanka”. Bringing those to an American made marketplace was a classless move, akin to wearing a t-shirt to a formal ball.

We’ll have more on the individual makers in subsequent blog posts. Suffice it to say, we had a wonderful time meeting so many dedicated partisans for American manufacturing.

International Workers’ Day

Our regular readers (all three of you) will know that our commitment to American manufacturing is, in no small part, a product of our desire to retain and build decent jobs on these shores.

Certainly, we appreciate the company owners who have taken the unusual step to retain or begin production on these shores. But we also have a deep appreciation for the hardworking men and women who make the things we wear.

Today–International Workers’ Day (or May Day in the common parlance)–is the day when we pay tribute to working folks across the globe. Despite the American origins of International Workers’ Day (commemorating the Haymarket affair in Chicago), this country’s powers that be picked a bland Monday in September for our Labor Day, largely to avoid the socialist connotations of the May celebration.

Today is also also the day when we honor the ongoing struggle for workers’ rights. Foremost among those are:

  1. The right of all workers to a living wage. It’s a simple but profound imperative: No one should toil at a full time job and not earn enough to lift his/her family out of poverty. Poverty wages are a moral disgrace.
  2. The right of all workers to gather, through constitutionally protected free assembly, in unions. The past generation in the United States has seen both a diminution of union power and an erosion of the middle class. These trends are not coincidental.
  3. The right of all workers to adequate time for rest and recreation.
  4. The right of all workers to job conditions that do not imperil their health and safety.

These basic rights are violated with impunity in a number of countries where much of our clothing is produced, which is why we’ve become partisans for American manufacturing. Items made in the United States are much more likely to be produced in conditions that respect workers’ fundamental dignity.