This Father’s Day, I received a wonderful present from Frannie: a new Mach 3 razor from AA Wood.
Made in Tennessee by Del Jensen, a retiree with a passion for turning exotic woods, it’s a true thing of beauty, with a nice heft and a perfect shape. I very rarely sport facial hair (except for the few days following a long backpacking or mountain climbing trip) so I recognize the value of a good razor.
Del’s operation is a self-described one man shop, and he sells his very reasonably priced wares on Etsy.
New Orleans is a place, both peculiar and particular. Firmly ensconced in the South, it’s nonetheless unmoored from that region’s petty and hackneyed morality, with a joie de vivre air of revelry in life’s many pleasures.
The city is firmly ingrained in the American cultural consciousness, but in a perverse way it stands apart, almost like an open city. It’s Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino. It’s Stanley Kowalski, Binx Bolling and Ignatius J. Riley. It’s the French Quarter, the Sazerac and the streetcar.
Frannie and I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days the Crescent City. One of the highlights of our vacation was a visit to the wholesale offices of Jolie and Elizabeth, a company specializing in American made seersucker dresses.
For some time now, Jolie and Elizabeth has been on our proverbial radar screen. We’ve taken note of both their commitment to local manufacturing and the timeless look of their products–a look firmly rooted in the aesthetics of the city they call home.
The collective handiwork of Jolie Benson Hamilton and Sarah Elizabeth Dewey, Jolie and Elizabeth got its start in 2010. Last September, they celebrated the occasion of their 10,000th dress, a remarkable accomplishment.
Despite their Southern roots, the two actually met in New York. At the time, Jolie was working for BCBG. Sarah was her intern. That experience was an eye opener. They noted that, working with overseas factories, it was difficult to correct mistakes or prompt changes in design. The time difference also made communications difficult.
While we were at their wholesale offices, Frannie tried on several dresses. She finally settled on the Magnolia in a classic blue seersucker, a sleeveless dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt that hits an inch or two above the knee.
Like so many of Jolie and Elizabeth’s dresses, it’s perfect for many occasions. With a pair of heels and pearls, it will take a young lady to all but the dressiest of summer occasions. With a pair of flats or tennis slippers, it’s the ideal companion for a casual jaunt around the city.
My general belief is this: shorts are a child’s clothes. Once a man passes the age of majority, absent his attendance at the swimming pool, the beach, the gym or the track, his legs should be covered.
Rare is the pair of short pants that causes me to diverge from this assumption.
Occasionally, however, I encounter a pair that inspires me to reassess my biases. A little while ago, I happened upon just such a pair–from Fairfield, Conn.-based Just Madras. We’ve featured Just Madras before in these virtual pages; their American-made clothes and accessories are near-and-dear to our collective hearts.
Classic with a nautical sensibility, these gingham Bermuda shorts are a perfect addition to a summer look.
In the more than 40 years since its founding as a clothing company, Patagonia has become a symbol of well-heeled outdoor adventure. But the apparel and sporting company, which sells everything from fleece jackets to smoked salmon, thinks of itself as more than just a retail company. …And yet, despite these aspirations, four years ago internal audits turned up multiple instances of human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation in Patagonia’s (overseas) supply chain…
What, in essence, Patagonia has discovered is that it’s impossible to make things in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. without relying upon exploited labor. You may not intend to do it. But supply chains get so complicated when you outsource that such abuses are an inevitability.
If a company as seemingly committed to good corporate citizenship as Patagonia can’t avoid this in its overseas supply chains, then I seriously doubt anyone can. The only solution is reshoring, bringing production back to the United States with its labor, occupational safety and environmental protections.
At the prices Patagonia charges, it could easily produce its wares in the United States, paying living wages to American workers, and still make a tidy profit. The only rationale for outsourcing as prodigiously as Patagonia has is ugly, vile, naked greed.
I’ve heard before that Patagonia claims the sewing expertise it needs has migrated overseas. This is a bold-faced lie. Companies like Western Mountaineering, Feathered Friends, ZPacks , Zimmerbuilt and Melanzana continue to produce outdoor products to a very high standard–all with American hands and American know-how. And all at a price point that is very competitive with what Patagonia charges.
But if, in fact, what Patagonia claims is true, then it bears a significant responsibility for that erosion of expertise. The expertise now exists overseas because companies like Patagonia shuttered their American factories. It’s that old canard: You are either part of the problem or you are part of the solution.
A few months ago, we featured Frannie’s new backpack from Duluth Pack. It’s already seen active service throughout much of her second semester at school. Here it is, in all its American made glory, nestled at the base of a Texas Live Oak, as the sun dapples through the high branches.
Our regular readers will remember that we purchased Frannie a pair of navy flats from Eliza B last August. Made in Essex, Conn., they’re the kind of shoes every young lady should own, appropriate for everything from the casual to the moderately dressy.
Now, less than a year later, we had to turn to Eliza B for a replacement pair.
Normally, that truncated life span would be a cause for concern.
But when I learned that Frannie had worn them an average of once every two days since receiving the pair last summer, I knew that they had given more than admirable service. By my calculations, that’s more than 100 wearings, which, for a pair of canvas flats, is remarkable.
I’ve disabused her from wearing the replacement pair quite so often, although it’s difficult to resist wearing a shoe so well made and versatile. Her new pair is almost completely identical, with the exception of a darker sole.
With the mercury already north of 90 degrees, it can take a fair bit of imagination to thrift items made both for other seasons and, frankly speaking, other climates.
To wit, this vintage ladies Pendleton blazer (from back when such things were still made in the USA). Frannie found it in one of the Houston Goodwills. It’s a sturdy Black Watch tartan made from the kind of sumptuous wool Pendleton used to be known for.
It will be a perfect jacket when she returns to school–a bulwark against the chill of a Virgina autumn.
As Americans, we are a nation of diverse cultural traditions. That synthesis of cultures is one of our great gifts as Americans–taking disparate elements and weaving them into a coherent whole.
As we’ve mentioned before, so much of what we consider classic in terms of American style has its antecedents in other cultures.
Ada Kwube is the brainchild of Houstonian Chekwube Emebo. A native of Nigeria and a geologist by training and profession, she set out to design women’s clothing that would combine classic style with the wax cotton print that is ubquitous in West Africa.
That vision is audacious one. But the results are nothing short of stunning.
After a couple of years of planning–pattern making, fabric sourcing and finally finding a local manufacturer who could help realize her vision–Ada Kwube was launched earlier this year. At present, Chekwube offers three dresses for sale; other items are in the planning stages.
Although there’s a company in Ghana that produces the wax fabric to her high standards, obtaining the cloth through normal distribution channels has proven a challenge. So, for now, she sources the wax cotton from an enterprise in the Netherlands.
The dress we bought for Frannie is called the Aisha. It has a high waisted, dupioni skirt, a fitted navy bodice and wax print detailing on the peter pan collar.
We’ve featured a number of items on Classic American Style, items from neophyte artisans and from established corporations alike, but this may quite possibly be our favorite. It’s at once classic and at the same time completely sui generis. Walk into a room wearing this, and you will be both classically stylish and guaranteed not to be treading on anyone else’s sartorial toes with a similar frock.
This South Carolina-based manufacturer of bow ties and other men’s accessories began almost by accident.
Ellie Stager was making some outfits for her children, and her husband, a man of the cloth, lamented that she had yet to sew anything for him. So she made him a seersucker bow tie, and he posted the results online.
The response to Ellie’s first experiment in bow tie making was overwhelming and enthusiastic, with others clamoring for her handiwork. Soon she was assembling ties for a growing contingent of Internet fans. Eventually, that informal business activity evolved into The Cordial Churchman.
The company, based in Rock Hill, South Carolina, offers bow ties in a variety of styles–butterfly, batwing, diamond end–that are only made once you order them. They can also convert your long ties into any variety of bow.
I’ve had two opportunities recently to intersect with The Cordial Churchman.
The first was to purchase a bow tie for one of Frannie’s beloved teachers–a dedicated partisan of the bow tie–upon his departure from her school. They were able to make the tie, get it mailed out and in Frannie’s hands within a few days.
I also purchased, for myself, a pair of suspenders in gray chambray. When I perused the web site, I noticed that all of the suspenders were listed as “sold out.” So I dropped the company an e-mail. A very kind response found it’s way to my inbox, with Ellie indicating that she had enough material and hardware to make a single pair. I gratefully took her up on the very kind offer.
I’m not sure if they plan to reintroduce the braces. It may be possible that I’ve purchased the last pair. That would be unfortunate, as they are truly an exceptional American made product.
Some time back, we featured Flint and Tinder and its outstanding collection of men’s underclothes. As someone who’s worn boxer shorts for more than 30 years, I can safely proclaim them the finest pair of underpants I’ve owned. Gentlemen, if you haven’t tried a pair of their American made cotton boxers, you are missing out on something special.
A sale price on its boxers recently had me once again at Flint and Tinder’s Internet doorstep, ordering a trifecta of underpants: two navy and a gray chambray.