Fox River Mills Redux

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will remember our fondness for the products from Fox River Mills. Located in Osage, Iowa, Fox River is known for its exceptional American made wool socks.

This past week, needing some new running socks, I picked up a pair at the Tangent Outfitters in Pembroke, Virginia. A merino wool/nylon blend, they’re both lightweight and well cushioned, the perfect companion for warm weather outdoor pursuits.

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Palm Beach Sandals

At Frannie’s boarding school, Jack Rogers sandals are all the rage.

But they’re not the real McCoy.

For those in the know, Palm Beach Sandals are the one and true choice. Palm Beach Sandals continue to be made in the United States to an exceptionally high standard. Jack Rogers are largely made overseas with substandard materials.

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Palm Beach and Jack Rogers are competing makers of an iconic women’s sandal. The sandal had its genesis when Jackie Kennedy returned from a vacation from Capri, with a pair of locally made sandals in tow. She was so taken by the sandals that she asked a Palm Beach cobbler to make her a few additional pairs.

Two of the cobblers employees, Benny and Eva Bonanno, were put in charge of the order. Eventually, the sandals were produced under the Bonanno name; by the 1980s, their son Stephen had taken over the company. Some years later, Stephen and his wife Monica divorced.

His wife got the production facilities, the machines and the dyes, and continued producing the same sandals under the Palm Beach moniker. He got to keep the Bonanno name, which he ran into the ground with a competing footwear enterprise that took customers’ money and failed to deliver product.

Jack Rogers, a large manufacturing concern, saw a good thing, and began turning out imitations. Over time, the imitation surpassed the authentic in popularity.

We recently purchased a pair of Palm Beach sandals for Frannie, in a classically preppy pink and green; the choice of color was a difficult one, as Palm Beach offers its sandals in a seemingly endless combination of hues.

She finds them comfortable, sturdy and well made (I too was really impressed with the craftsmanship), and they’ll be a perfect addition to her summer wardrobe, ideal for pairing with dresses, skirts and shorts.

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Attollé Clothiers

There’s a strong tradition of integrating fabrics from other cultures into clothing with classic cuts. Indian madras and seersucker and Scottish tweed are some of the most notable examples.

This, however, can be fraught with peril. To some, it smacks of cultural appropriation, the unmooring of another culture’s elements from its authentic context.

But I prefer to think of it as a natural product of synthesis–the melding together of distinct cultural elements to form a new and even more vibrant whole.

Frannie and I, over the past year, have developed an affection for African waxprint, the colorful cottons that are ubiquitous in countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Given the proclivity in preppy circles for “go to hell” prints, I can imagine this fabric eventually finding purchase among aficionados of classic American style.

I recently had the privilege of discovering Attollé Clothiers, a Houston-based company that specializes in clothing made from waxprint. Attollé was actually established about 13 years ago in Lagos, Nigeria by Bookey Itoandon, a lawyer by training. Eventually, Bookey found her way to the United States, and, in 2011, she relaunched Attollé Clothiers.

The skirt I purchased for Frannie is the Rini–a full midi skirt in an orange and aqua floral pattern. It’s truly a thing of beauty, and it speaks well to Frannie’s tastes–classic in cut but vibrant in print.

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It’s a true inspiration to find companies like Attollé Clothiers with a commitment to classic but innovative clothing–particularly one that makes its products in our regional backyard.

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(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Bookey also included a free shirt for Frannie. There was a minor delay in our order, and she sent the shirt to make up for that, although her very kind gesture far exceeded any inconvenience we incurred. However, since it is our policy on Classic American Style to only review items we pay for ourselves, we haven’t included it in this post.)

Homan Briar

America is not wanting for domestic makers of bow ties. Brooks Brothers, Mo’s Bows, Beau Ties, High Cotton and The Cordial Churchman are just a few plying their trade.

Add to those Homan Briar. Less than a year-and-a-half old, Homan Briar is something of an upstart in the domestic bow tie production business. But what we’ve seen from them so far bodes well.

Homan Briar got its start in early 2014, when Penn State roommates Carl Rowits and Reg Goeke began producing and selling a small collection of locally made bow ties. But the genesis of their idea occurred earlier in their academic careers. At an event for their fraternity, Carl was lambasted by his brothers for the sartorial transgression of wearing a clip on bow tie.

That Christmas, his mother rectified that situation, purchasing five bow ties. But, in young Carl’s assessment, the quality was wanting. So he purchased fabric, and his mother made up a superior version.

It was a hit at his next fraternity function, and a fraternity brother offered him $50 for the tie.

The light of inspiration was sparked.

Carl’s mother sewed some of the first Homan Briar ties. As their business expanded, they hitched their wagon to a recently established local sewing concern that was willing to impose lower minimums on a company like Homan Briar that had more limited initial demands.

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Their enterprise is a modest one. But it has expanded beyond the original collection of bow ties to include t-shirts.

The bow tie I purchased is called the “Instant Employment”–presumably because wearing one will bolster your employment prospects. While I look upon that claim with the lighthearted skepticism it deserves, I do have an affection for the tie itself.

It’s a sturdy navy silk twill with pink pin dots that ties up like a dream. It remains to be seen how well it holds up over time. I have a maroon bow tie with white pin dots from England’s Turnbull & Asser that has not. After a few wearings, the dots began to fray.

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But I’m hopeful that the Homan Briar tie will avoid that fate. And I’m grateful to see young entrepreneurs like Carl and Reg affirm their commitment to American manufacturing.

Columbiaknit Rugby Shirt

Columbiaknit, based in Portland, Ore., is, to my knowledge, the leading domestic manufacturer of classic rugby shirts. In anticipation of her imminent return to school, I picked one up for Frannie, at a very reasonable price. The women’s rugby shirts appear to be produced under the Metroknit label.

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With the classic rubber buttons

They put just about any other rugby shirt I’ve ever seen to complete shame. The cotton is wonderfully soft and sumptuously thick, and the shirt sports the rubber buttons that are the hallmark of classic rugby wear.

Unlike Columbiaknit’s Breton shirts, their rugby shirts are very generously cut. Frannie normally wears a medium in a shirt, but she easily could have gotten away with a women’s small. However, a medium will give her more options for layering.

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Perfect for layering
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A generous cut

Looking for a Few Good Reviewers

We’ve tried, over the course of more than 120 posts, to feature as many American manufacturers as possible while limiting our writing to the companies and products with which we have first hand experience.

But there are still a number of companies whose American made wares we haven’t yet had the chance to sample. If you have any experience with the companies below and would like to be a guest reviewer, we’d welcome your contributions:

  1. Mercer & Sons
  2. New England Shirt Company
  3. Gitman Bros.
  4. Sailor Rose
  5. Oxxford Clothes
  6. Alden Shoes
  7. Ohio Knitting Mills
  8. Appalach Outdoor Apparel Co.
  9. Rancourt & Co.

A few ground rules:

  1. No freebies. You have to be reviewing something you either purchased yourself or received as a gift from a friend/family member.
  2. Be prepared to write not only about the product itself but also about the company that made said product, touching on its history, its mission and its values.
  3. Pictures are a must. Get some shots of the product itself and of you wearing it.

Unfortunately, we’re unable to offer any financial remuneration for guest reviews. We’re a non-revenue generating blog; for us, this is a labor of love. But if you share our passion for classic clothing made in the USA and have solid writing skills, we’d love to feature your contribution. Just contact us and let us know.

Canard Shop: An Interview

A couple of months ago, I purchased a Columbiaknit Breton shirt from Canard Shop. For those of you not familiar with Canard Shop, a brief introduction: It’s a modest online enterprise, dedicated to selling American made clothing. It’s curatorial, gathering together a diverse range of items from a diverse range of manufacturers.

I had the pleasure, a little while back, of conducting a brief e-mail interview with Canard’s owner and founder John Williams. His passion for American manufacturing shone through in every answer, and it’s a genuine honor to have the opportunity to highlight someone who shares our commitment to American made goods.

1. How did Canard get its start?

I grew up in a rural setting, a backwater swamp island in Southwest Florida, accessible only by boat. For the most part, everything we owned needed to be robust and long-lasting–anything less would’ve been compromised by the natural world rather quickly. I recognized the importance of seeking out quality goods and learned the best tools for the job are worth the extra time or money spent procuring them.

Entering adulthood as a collegian in San Francisco, I tried to stretch my dollars with used clothing items from Pendleton, Levi’s, Filson and the like. Eventually I recognized the common trait amongst the garments I prefered to wear, with rare exception, these goods were made in the USA. I began to exclusively seek American-made items. If given enough time spent researching, I could find nearly anything item made in USA. While spending donkey’s years searching for “Made in USA” goods, I had a realization: I could create a central resource for the best American-made available, benefiting both consumers and producers alike.

2. How long have you been in business?

I began flirting with the idea of launching Canard since 2010. At the time (and since then), I’ve primarily been pursuing a career in the film industry. After experiencing a varying amount of success in film, I saw my chance to launch and opened for business mid-September, 2014.

3. Do you have a physical storefront? If not, are you planning (or hoping) to set one up?

For now, we’re exclusively an internet shop. We began at a house in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, a city which I called home for six years. Earlier this month we moved to Portland in the “Pacific Wonderland” of the beautiful West. As online sales steadily increase, we hope to open a physical shop in Portland this year.

4. What about American manufacturing inspires you?

Though I was born overseas, the best thing to happen in my life was to become an American. I love this country. In varying degrees, I believe we are all connected and I feel some responsibility for the well-being of my fellow countrymen. I often wonder what I can do to benefit the common good and how to eliminate poverty in this country.

Looking back at recent American history, from the perspective of a man in his late-twenties, I see the devastation caused by the loss of domestic manufacturing. I believe there is a great need for reliable and ordinary jobs–not everybody wants a high-powered, stress-laden and academically-intensive career. Manufacturing jobs can provide workers with a steady, living wage and the freedom to pursue a sense of purpose within their local community. Buying USA-made goods is an investment in our homeland, our neighbors and our future together.

5. Is there anything else about your business you’d like our readers to know?

Our environment is rapidly changing and the weather we experience in coming decades will be unlike the predictable cycles of yesteryear. Buying goods made in this country benefits us all because these products will last longer, travel less distance and put money into the pockets of your neighbors. With more jobs here, we can better educate our children and collectively make decisions to reduce our impact on the planet.

New Preppy Classics

Preppy style likes to think of itself as essentially immutable. As the Official Preppy Handbook once suggested, “Preppies wear clothes for twenty-five years and no one can tell the difference.”

But a Prep’s wardrobe is not immune to the vicissitudes of fashion. While many items from Prep’s past would look perfectly at home in the modern closet (a blazer from 1957, a Shetland sweater from 1981 or a tartan wrap skirt of just about any vintage), others would just as easily appear dated, with odd cuts, out of place hemlines and gaudy prints.

This got us to thinking: What clothing, now considered largely classic in the pantheon of Prep clothing, was left out of the Official Preppy Handbook, either by omission or because that clothing had yet to be elevated to the ranks of sartorial classics? Just how much has Prep changed since that first true attempt to chronicle its stylistic dimensions?

Here are our choices. For those of you so inclined, we invite you to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

1. Riding Boots

Yes, the Handbook did insinuate that  certain elements of a riding wardrobe could be appropriated for everyday wear. But it gave notoriously scant attention to the specifics. In recent years, riding boots have become one of the bedrock elements of the female Prep’s wardrobe. Owing to its strong vaquero tradition, Spain continues to make some of the best riding boots around.

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2. Rugby Shirts

Had the Handbook been published a few years later, it would likely have made a nod to the venerable rugby shirt. While the rugby shirt had made incursions into college campuses in the United States as early as the 1960s, it’s apotheosis did not occur until a few years after the Handbook was published. Since then, it has come in and out of fashion, but it remains a Prep classic.

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The 1968 Yale Rugby Football Club, sporting their rugby shirts

3. Quilted Jackets

It’s understandable that the quilted jacket would not merit a mention in the Handbook. After all, the jacket was invented in 1965–in England, by American ex-patriot Steve Guylas–only 15 years before the Handbook was published–a blink of an eye in Prep time. The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, published two years later, did feature the waistcoat version of the quilted jacket, but it remained an essentially British flavor for several years after that. Eventually, the jacket began to insinuate itself across the pond where it was adopted by Anglophiles and those with a passion for country pursuits.

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4. Palm Beach/Jack Rogers Sandals

How the much more prosaic Bernardo sandals finagled their way into the Handbook, where the Palm Beach sandals were left out is a mystery. Their provenance is impeccable. Jackie Kennedy picked up a pair of similar sandals on vacation in Europe. She contracted to have a pair made by a Palm Beach artisan, the design of which was eventually copied by Jack Rogers. Those in the know favor the authentic Palm Beach Sandals over the Jack Rogers versions–not only because they’re constructed to a much higher standard but also because they’re still made in the United States.

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The classic Palm Beach sandal.

5. Breton Shirts

At the time the Handbook was published, the Breton shirt (also known as the French fisherman’s shirt) had not yet shed its association with the bohemian crowd. Owing to the Prep’s affinity for nautical pursuits, the Breton shirt was a natural addition to the pantheon of classic clothing. The authentic models are made in France, although Columbia Knit and Save Khaki both offer American made versions.

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6. Seersucker for Women

Seersucker for men garnered two mentions in the Handbook. For women? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Yet, for Prep’s southern partisans, seersucker is the ur-fabric for summer wear. It can be found in dresses, skirts, shorts, beach wraps and blouses. Jolie and Elizabeth and Lauren James are two of the leading American producers of women’s seersucker clothing.

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