A few weeks ago, before heading over to Manready Mercantile for White Linen night, I made a brief detour to Houston’s Norton Ditto.
Norton Ditto deserves a mention for a fairly robust commitment to stocking American made goods. Hickey Freeman Suits. Trafalgar suspenders. Alden shoes. Robert Talbott ties. And, yes, Dapper Classic socks.
While at Norton Ditto, I picked up two pair of cotton over the calf Dapper Classics socks (adding to the ten already in my collection). I’m also fond of American made socks from American Trench and Boardroom Socks (Fox River Socks for outdoor pursuits), but Dapper Classics, given their tendency toward bright colors and whimsical designs, are unequivocally my favorite.
The past generation teaches a harrowing lesson: Once the genie of outsourcing has been unleashed from its bottle, it’s all but impossible to put it back.
So I wonder, is the lone Chinese made pair an anomaly? Or is it a harbinger of darker things on the horizon. For it would be a shame–truly a shame–if a company like Trafalgar lost its way.
A few weeks ago, I acquired a fourth pair of Trafalgar suspenders.
Made, of course, in the USA, they are wonderful in every respect. A navy silk herringbone, they feature nickel hardware and richly colored dark brown tabs.
Trafalgar’s primary competition is Albert Thurston out of the UK. For my money, Trafalgar is the superior of the two options. Thurston, onec the definitive option for suspenders, seems to be riding on the coattails of a faded glory. The most recent examples I’ve seen from Thurston are a pale imitation of what it once was.
A few months ago, I reported on my first F.H. Wadsworth belt. A grosgrain ribbon, D-ring version, it has a favored spot among my belts, running neck-and-neck with Leather Man Ltd. for my affections.
Given that the F.H. Wadsworth belts come in more than 30 color combinations, it’s only natural that I would add another to my collection. Classic and colorful, they’re the perfect accent to any self-respecting prep’s outfit.
In fact, I’m going to go out on the proverbial limb here. If you, in any way, fashion yourself a partisan of the prep/trad/ivy/WASP look, at least one of these belts must be a part of your collection. They are that essential.
Like many things we’ve featured on Classic American Style, the Gurkha short has military antecedents, hearkening back to the legendary Nepalese colonial military regiment. It was, for many years, the short of choice for British soldiers operating in our world’s tropical latitudes. With its high, dual strap waist band, forward pleats and wide legs, it was both stylish and functional.
In the mid 1980s, the short gained an unlikely degree of popularity on this side of the pond, with a young company called Banana Republic largely responsible for its introduction into the American sartorial zeitgeist. For some years, the J. Peterman catalogue also featured a reasonably authentic version. And recently, Tokyo-based Beams+ had a version, although it no longer appears to be part of their collection.
Today, military surplus is about the only option for those among us seeking a reasonable facsimile of the original Gurkha short. And that is how I found my pair–combing the shelves of a now defunct militariana store in my hometown.
I’m the first to admit that the Gurkha short is more classically British than American, but much of what makes up classic American style has roots in Albion. I think the Gurkha and the venerable Bermuda short are the only acceptable options for climates where even the lightest of trouser is too much fabric.
Last weekend, I attended White Linen Night, an annual festival on 19th Street in the Houston Heights, where we get to pretend that wearing linen makes the brutal Southeast Texas summer somehow more bearable. It does, but only marginally so.
My favorite shop on 19th Street (actually, my favorite shop in all of Houston) is Manready Mercantile, a men’s store with a vibrant commitment to stocking American made goods.
Manready, as is its wonderful habit, pulled out all the stops for White Linen Night. Cocktails. Music. And its usual wonderful collection of domestically manufactured clothing and accessories.
That evening, Manready also featured a pop-up shop from New Union Clothing. Manready’s Travis had posted about the New Union pop-up on Instagram, and I was eager to see their wares in the flesh (or the cloth).
I was not disappointed.
Although New Union has plans for a broader product line, its initial collection is focused exclusively on shirts–divided about equally between long and short sleeves.
And they are something amazing.
The shirts are made in California from Japanese fabrics, with details that have been well and truly thought out. A button down collar with enough substance to have a proper roll. Sleeves that are trim in the way that I’ve only found before on custom shirts. Shoulder seams that hit exactly where they should. Thick mother of pearl buttons. Side gussets.
Being the eager beaver that I am, I was on hand as Manready opened its doors, and I made a beeline to the New Union pop-up. I ended up being New Union’s first customer ever (aside from the obligatory friends and family).
I ended up buying a blue and white bengal stripe button down. The stripes on the collar orient atypically, and the top of the front pocket angles upward toward the shoulder. They’re both nice touches, interesting modern updates to a shirt still rooted firmly in the classics.
New Union’s collection includes several other shirts, including versions with a banded collar (a look, frankly, I just can’t pull off). I have my eye on a light blue chambray pullover with an extreme cutaway collar.
One item of note: The shirts are cut slim. Very slim. I’m normally a medium in non-custom men’s shirts–even in collections, like Gitman Vintage, that advertise a trim fit. But in New Union, I was a large. So if you’re uncertain what size to pick, I recommend you size up.
It was truly a pleasure to meet Alfredo and Kaylene, the husband and wife team behind New Union. They are two of the finest people you could ever hope to meet, and their passion for what they’re doing truly shines through. It’s taken them two years to get to the point of offering their first collection; I think that kind of determination is something to celebrate.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been running this blog, I’ve come across many items I’ve been passionate about. But I can’t remember when I’ve been this excited about an offering from a new American company.
Here on Classic American Style, we tend to focus on those things that work well. And, given the exceptionally high standard that defines most American made products, that’s been a fairly easy task.
But sometimes we encounter products that don’t live up to our expectations.
Last year, I purchased (on a fairly deep discount) a polo shirt from Bills Khakis. Those of you who have been with us for a while will know of our affection for Bills Khakis.
In fact, I have several things from Bills: a pair of the original M1 khakis, a pair of green poplin M2 pants, a pair of seersucker M2 pants, a pair of broadcloth critter pants and three pairs of boxer shorts. Each of these has served me well, and I’m pleased to include them in my wardrobe.
I was hopeful that the shirt would embody the same high standards I’ve come to expect from Bills.
No such luck.
My beef is neither with the fabric nor the construction. Both seem to be top notch.
Where I find the shirt lacking is in the design. I purchased a medium (I hover somewhere between a medium and a large) because I like a slightly slimmer fit in a polo shirt. The torso is reasonably slim, but the sleeves are preposterously long, hitting at my elbow, and they billow out as if intended to fit arms twice the diameter of mine. And the shoulder seam droops down a couple of inches below where it should hit, which is particularly surprising given that I have fairly broad shoulders for my frame.
Frankly, I can’t imagine what body shape this would fit–someone with a torso like Donatello’s David, linebacker shoulders and Paul Bunyan arms. I note that the polos are still being offered for sale on Bills’ website. My recommendation: steer clear.
Last weekend, I was running a few errands when a fellow customer caught sight of me in my American made duds and declared that I was “a true southern gentleman.” Being the self effacing sort that I am, I demurred at his complement.
I am not, by my reckoning, a gentleman. Someday, maybe. But for now, I’m still a little too rough around the edges to call myself a true gentleman.
But even the “southern” part of his adulation felt a little off.
Truth be told, my affections lie north of the Mason-Dixon line. Although I’ve lived in the South for all but a few of my years, my family hails from our country’s northern latitudes. The values that inform my life–thrift, discretion, probity–were passed down from my Puritan forebears, some of the earliest arrivals in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
And despite my superficial resemblance to a Southern gentleman that morning, not one stitch of my outfit was made in the South. Rancourt penny loafers made in Maine. My New England Shirt Company shirt made in Massachusetts. A Leather Man Ltd. motif belt made in Connecticut. Bills Khakis seersucker trousers made in Pennsylvania. And an Optimo Hats panama straw made in Chicago.
In fact, very little of what I own is made in the south. Of course my custom Hamilton Shirts are made in Houston. But I know of just a few others. Criquet Shirts made in El Paso, suspenders from The Cordial Churchman made in South Carolina, Boardroom Socks made in North Carolina, ditto my High Cotton polos. But I’d be hard pressed to conjure up any other non custom items from my closet that were assembled by southern hands.
The South has been particularly hard hit by the exodus of manufacturing jobs to foreign locales. And the North has always had a more vigorous manufacturing base, which, in isolated pockets, it has tried hard to retain.