Melanzana, Part 2

A few years back, I wrote about Melanzana, a Leadville, Colorado-based enterprise that sells and manufactures fleece outdoor clothing.

This summer, my wife and I made a trip to Breckenridge. A side trip to Leadville was on our itinerary with Melanzana our first stop. Because my dimensions are a bit more modest than they were when I purchased my first Melanzana fleece, I picked up a micro grid hoodie in a size medium. My wife bought a micro grid dress.

These garments are lightweight, warm, eminently packable and a great value for the price. With a slightly loose fit, they’re the perfect outer layer for a cool day outdoors and an ideal middle layer for colder hiking. In short, the stuff outdoor dreams are made of.

I was astounded by the number of people sporting Melanzana fleece while we were in Colorado–both on the trail and in town. It’s a testament to the popularity of a company that has thrived almost entirely by word of mouth since its founding nearly a quarter century ago.

If you want one of these (and you’re not alone if you do), unless you can make it to Melanzana’s Leadville store, you’re out of luck. Skyrocketing demand has prompted the company to suspend web sales for the time being. But you can still visit their website and lust to your heart’s content.

We love Melanzana not just because it makes and sells its products all under one roof. We love Melanzana because it makes all its products from U.S. made fleece, sourced from Polartec’s Tennessee mill. American made from stem to stern.

Blue Claw Garment Bag

The venerable garment bag.

For those of us who appreciate tailored clothing and for the members of the fairer sex who travel with dresses, it’s essential.

My previous garment bag, a promotional gimmie I received about a decade ago, was on its proverbial last legs, so a replacement had been, for some time, in order.

Understandably, my wife and I wanted a bag manufactured on these shores. And, to our delight, several options presented themselves.

We eventually opted for the Gooseneck Garment Bag from Blue Claw. Made in Minnesota, it’s constructed in a classic, bi-fold style, made from milspec ballistic nylon, about as indestructible as it comes.

The design is resolutely minimal, with all the right details: an interior hanger loop, full grain leather handles and zipper pulls, a zippered shoe pocket, a diagonal zipper for the main compartment. It foregoes the ubiquitous shoulder strap, recognizing that slinging a garment bag over your shoulder causes it to warp in the shape of your torso.

The bag has already held up well during a few trips, both during plane and car travel. And it’s hearty construction suggests a lifetime of dedicated use.

Taylor Stitch

This missive is something of a postmortem.

Don’t get me wrong. Taylor Stitch as a corporate entity is still, by appearances, going strong.

Truth be told, it’s taken me a while to get around to finishing a post about Taylor Stitch. And, over that time frame, Taylor Stitch has shifted from a company that produced most of its wares in the United States to a entity manufacturing clothing in locales around the globe, principally in China. Rest in peace.

In the original post I was drafting, I suggested that Taylor Stitch was trying to be L.L. Bean, a brand, broad in its offerings with a strong connection to its home, in this case California. Sadly, that assessment has proven true, but in a way I hadn’t anticipated. It took Bean several generations to sputter largely into an importer of questionable goods from third world countries. Taylor Stitch has done it in about a decade.

You might think that shift, with its resultant lower costs, would translate into a less expensive product. But you’d be wrong. The clothes still carry the same not insubstantial price tag.

Reddit boards are legion with customers decrying this situation. They point out, correctly, that Taylor Stitch got its start embracing a laid back, California vibe, with American manufacturing central to that identity.

Once their website and their clothing tags trumpeted the phrase “Proudly Handmade in California.” Now they simply say, “Made in China.” I suppose we should be grateful for that level of honesty–both to list the country of origin as few others do and to admit that pride no longer factors into it.

Once this was true. Alas, no more.

Taylor Stitch representatives have weighed in, defending the move on quality control and environmental grounds. Never mind that investment in Chinese manufacturing undergirds a brutal regime with hegemonic views toward the United States. Never mind the fact that Chinese factories have been legendary in their fudging of information on their labor and environmental footprint. And never mind that the decline in American manufacturing Taylor Stitch indicts was hastened by the very outsourcing in which it is now complicit.

Are there challenges to sourcing from United States factories? Of course. But Taylor Stitch had an opportunity to be a part of the solution–to leverage its goodwill to raise the standard and capacity of American manufacturing.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that a smattering of Taylor Stitch’s products are still manufactured domestically: blue jeans, a denim jacket, shoe trees. But the overwhelming majority are made in locations where pride slips on a banana.

I’ve purchased a few American made items from Taylor Stitch over the past couple of years, and they have been uniformly outstanding.

For my son, I purchased a pair of selvedge jeans. For myself, I purchased a pair of running shorts and two oxford cloth button downs. I even cajoled by brother into adding a couple of the shirts to his wardrobe.

Andrew wearing American made Taylor Stitch jeans

Of the button downs, I should mention this (a mild rebuttal to the company’s claims of inconsistent sizing): Every Taylor Stitch shirt I’ve purchased or tried on in size 38 has had the same fit; no variance in sizing to be found. I suppose the anecdotal limits of my experience should not be used to judge the quality control across the board. But let my voice be one small bit of testimony in approbation of Taylor Stitch’s American made shirts.

Yours truly sporting a Taylor Stitch oxford cloth button down, made in California

My one issue with the button downs is the stinginess of the collar. But in today’s style environment of narrow widths and skinny silhouettes, that’s to be expected. It’s a design choice, not a deficiency in the manufacturing process.

At this point, with so much goodwill squandered, I’m not sure if Taylor Stitch can recover. If you’re willing to buy made in China goods, $125 is likely a price too dear for a shirt.

Unfortunately, the story is an all too familiar one: a company, once firmly committed to making its wares in the United States, has betrayed that commitment in a profound manner. The result is, to say the least, dispiriting.

Gitman Vintage Redux

I’ve written before on Gitman Bros., the Pennsylvania-based maker of shirts, specifically its Gitman Vintage range. Gitman Vintage was launched in 2008, culling fabrics from the company’s archives to bridge tradition and modernism.

I’m already the owner of a Gitman Vintage madras shirt, and, for our anniversary, my wife gave me one of the company’s navy short sleeve seersucker button downs. It is, of course, made in Pennsylvania, as most Gitman shirts have been since 1978. And it’s classic in every way.

In truth, I found this year’s Gitman Vintage spring/summer collection a bit wanting, with too much emphasis on the loud tropical prints that have suddenly come back in vogue.

But this particular shirt is a gem. It’s the reason I keep coming back to one of the country’s finest shirtmakers.

American Blanket Company

Note: At the request of the American Blanket Company, we were given a complementary blanket to review.

I was prepared not to like it. I really was.

It’s not that I’m implicitly contrarian. But a healthy skepticism has prompted me to be wary of the proverbial gift horse.

It started thusly: A couple of months ago, I received an email. A representative from the American Blanket Company offered to send me one of their American made blankets to review.

Longtime readers (both of you) will remember that we have  generally shied away from accepting freebies.

And we’ve done so for a simple reason: Reviewing only things we’ve spent our hard earned money on hones our objectivity. It enables us to look at American made goods with a critical eye, avoiding any conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

But, in this case, we made an exception.

That’s partially because my wife and I already have a cotton blanket, and we weren’t in the market for another. Had we been, we might have purchased one on our own.

So we decided to take the good folks at the American Blanket Company up on their offer.

Perusing the website, we learned that the American Blanket Company offers two kinds of blankets: fleece and cotton, and fleece seems to be its bread and butter.

But we weren’t interested in the fleece blankets. Those are made from fabric sourced overseas, despite the availability of American made options. Its cotton blankets, however, are made exclusively from domestic cotton, which is vastly preferable to those of us who treasure goods produced by American hands.

The cotton blankets come in two weaves: chevron and cable; we opted for the former.

Once it arrived, my skepticism went into overdrive. A free blanket was, after all, too good to be true.

Upon first inspection, however, I noted that it was impeccably made, the cotton luxurious with a thick, sumptuous hand. I put it on the bed and waited for nighttime to arrive.

So, after a few months of use, how has it held up?

In a word, it has been outstanding. It’s an ideal weight as the primary blanket for the summer, and I anticipate it will do excellent duty as a middle layer for winter sleep. A couple of washings have not dimmed its luster.

As a basis of comparison, our previous cotton blanket was a made in Maine version from L.L. Bean–a fine blanket in many respects, but somewhat more susceptible to snags than the American Blanket Company version. The Bean version is also a bit thinner, less versatile during the winter months.

Kudos to the American Blanket Company for making such an exceptional product, one that we can recommend without reservation.

Ceibo Handbags

My wife does not like handbags.

I can see her point.

You’re out dancing? A handbag, slung across the body, is an albatross. Leave the bag at the table or on a bar hook, and you risk pilferage from nefarious souls.

When all you need is a lipstick, a phone, an ID, a credit card and a little cash, a handbag is overkill–literal useless baggage.

So, when we’re out, I’m her Sherpa, stowing the few things she needs in my pockets.

But once every blue moon, my wife encounters a handbag whose charms are more aesthetic than practical.

Last week, we visited Launch, a curated compendium of Houston-based designers and artists located on the rapidly gentrifying eastern edge of downtown. During our visit, we came across a collection of vegan handbags, all made in Houston, from an enterprise called Ceibo.

My wife was instantly smitten.

She ended up selecting the Mini Circle Gold Ring bag in fuchsia, taken by its modernist whimsy. It didn’t hurt matters that she and I had just finished binge watching the Magnificent Mrs. Maisel, so visions of mid century modernism were still dancing in our heads.

Ceibo (named after the tree native to parts of South America) is the creation of Maria Cadena, a self-taught designer who moved to Houston from Ecuador in 2014. She started designing women accessories nine years ago. Today, every bag Ceibo sells is handcrafted by Maria in her Houston home.

Flamingo Urban

A few months ago, while doing a cursory web search for purveyors of American made goods, I came across American Boheme, which bills itself as “a revolving collection of … clothing, fashion, boheme dresses and styles all made in the USA.

My wife perused the web site, and she was able to find a couple of items to her liking. One of those was a maxi dress from a brand called Flamingo Urban. (The dress is apparently no longer available on American Boheme’s web site.)

It has a Breton style top (with three quarter length sleeves) and an attached paisley skirt. Classic in every way.

In truth, that dress seems to be something of an anomaly for Flamingo Urban. I’ve scoured the web to see what else the brand offers. While I’m sorry to say this, most of what I’ve seen with the Flamingo Urban imprimatur can be summed up in one word: frumpy.

I realize this is a somewhat harsh assessment, but we’ve committed to an uncompromising look at American made goods on this blog. So, for now, we’ll do well to celebrate a diamond in the rough.

Alex Crane

Many of the makers we’ve featured on Classic American Style see their efforts through the lens of sacrifice. They continue to manufacture in the United States even when it would be vastly more financially expedient to outsource.

But there’s a growing subset of companies who embrace American manufacturing for its practical benefits.

Alex Crane is one of those.

This Brooklyn-based designer manufactures in the United States with a resolutely pragmatic eye. The company sums that perspective up thusly:

In all honesty, it (manufacturing in the United States) was a choice born of practicality, and not of any patriotic sensibilities. As small business owners, we’ve enjoyed being close to our manufacturers, both physically and personally. That we can take a subway train to visit one of our manufacturers not only allows us to be more hands on and involved in our production, but also enables us to develop relationships of greater dept with the very people who are cutting and sewing our garments.

Alex Crane cut his teeth as a bag designer for Jack Spade. In 2016, he set out on his own, launching the first elements of his collection.

He traffics principally in linen, one of summer’s essential fabrics, particularly for those of us who live in close proximity to the equator. Derived from the flax plant, linen’s propensity to wrinkle gives it an easy, lived in charm.

I recently purchased one of Alex Crane’s linen Playa Shirts, a pine green button down. The fabric is sumptuous, almost buttery in feel, with a thickness unusual for most linen shirts.

I will say that the collar roll is a bit idiosyncratic, with the buttons pushed out a bit farther than traditional, but some might suggest that gives the shirt a left-of-center charm.

The shirts are intended to be worn with matching linen shorts, a union that the New York Times recently called “a deconstructed take on linen ‘suits…'” I’m a bit agnostic on this combination, although I could see myself deploying the shorts on their own with an oxford cloth button down.

A note about the sizing: I’m 5’11” tall and ordered the small, which is listed on the Alex Crane website as having a 42″ chest. However, when it arrived, it was clear that the chest was more modest in dimension; it measured only 39.5″, a half inch smaller than the listed measurements for an extra small. The shirt still fit me, giving me the more fitted look I prefer. I’m not sure if this is an anomaly, or if all the shirts have this disparity between listed and actual size.

New Balance 993

I expect dress shoes, well tended to and resoled on a fairly regular basis, to give me a lifetime of wear. Of athletic shoes, I do not have the same confidence.

The conventional wisdom is that athletic shoes need to be replaced every 300 to 500 miles. I tend, given my inherited midwestern parsimony, to hew to the upper end of that spectrum.

But, every so often, my athletic shoes bite the proverbial dust. In fact, my wife and I both recently confronted the end of our athletic shoes’ productive life. So we turned to one of the New Balance Factory Stores near us.¬† It had a couple of American made models, and we both opted for the 993.

As the only major maker of athletic footwear still constructing shoes in the United States, New Balance has a special place. Admittedly, most of its shoes are made overseas. But a select group (25% of its output by the company’s own measure) are made domestically in five New England plants, representing more than four million pairs annually.

We’ve already worn them twice. They’re amazingly comfortable–both lightweight and remarkably well cushioned. An upcoming hiking trip in Colorado will provide a true test, although I have every hope that they’ll perform more than admirably.

Swearing Parrot

Classic style is often steeped in nostalgia. It tends to venerate cuts, patterns and looks from the past, recognizing that good style is inherently timeless.

Little surprise then that we have a fond affection, both for actual artifacts from the past and for reproduction items that hearken back to an idealized point in sartorial history.

Last year, my wife an I chanced upon a particular maker of vintage-styled reproduction apparel. We were visiting Retropolis, a sort of vintage clothing superstore next door to Houston’s Manready Mercantile.

While there, we were drawn to a line of reproduction clothes called Swearing Parrot. Upon closer inspection, we happily discovered that everything was USA made. In fact, all of Swearing Parrot’s wares are handmade in the Houston area, by co-founder Amanda Bezemek.

Swearing Parrot’s patterns are the stuff of pure whimsy. In fact, the piece my wife chose was a skirt whose pattern is drawn from Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. It’s an amazing piece, and she’s already worn it several times.