About 12 year ago or so, I purchased a pair of Paul Stuart chukka boots (actually manufactured by Britain’s Grenson) for a song. During that time, they have served me with distinction. In fact, I estimate that I’ve worn them at last twice a month over that period, a remarkable rack record for any item in a man’s wardrobe.
But, as it must for all things, the boots fell victim to the vicissitudes of time and wear. So a new pair of chukkas was in the cards.
When I found out that Allen Edmonds was having a sale, with most shoes and boots $100 off, I had to act. In fact, a pair chukkas called out to me–the Nomad Chukka in spice, a sort of reddish tan.
Allen Edmonds stands proudly as a superlative example of American craftsmanship, continuing to make its footwear in Wisconsin. Where its contemporaries have faltered, decamping to overseas locations, Allen Edmonds has remained steadfast in its commitment to American manufacturing.
Yesterday, with cooler temperatures insinuating themselves into this subtropical latitude, the boots received their first wearing. They were reasonably comfortable right out of the box, and they were a stylish addition to a fall wardrobe. I foresee years of years of joyful wear out of these.
Say the phrase made in Maine. What images come to mind? L.L. Bean Boots? Quoddy moccasins? Canvas totes?
I’m going to wager that lightweight linen clothes would not make your list. After all, linen is a fabric exceptionally well suited for warmer climes, the kind of weather in notoriously short supply in the Pine Tree State.
So color us surprised to find women’s linen clothes being made in Portland, Maine by a company called South Street Linen.
The company is the collective brainchild of three painters who got their start making colorfully dyed linen scarves. Over time, their product line expanded, and today they’re making a full range of women’s linen clothes, crafted by local sewers in their own homes. I gather that a fairly devoted local fan club of sorts has coalesced around South Street’s clothes.
My wife was recently in the market for a comfortable pair of lightweight pants. I had encountered South Street on Instagram, taking note of its made in Maine bonafides. So she decided to give the company a try. Within a few days of ordering, the pants arrived, and she wore them the first time this week.
They have linen’s characteristic slouchiness and breathability, with a comfortable, easygoing aesthetic. They’re the kind of trouser she can wear professionally, casually on a weekend afternoon or dressed up for a night out.
We live in a zeitgeist that prioritizes the transitory over the enduring, disposability over the long-lasting, fashion over style.
No surprise then, that most shoes are made to be worn until they fall apart–with no hope of repair.
For those of us, however, who partake in welted footwear, we know that a good cobbler can rehabilitate even the most wanting pair of dress shoes, giving them a new lease on life.
For most of my shoes, I have a local cobbler I call upon. But a pair of Allen Edmonds dress shoes recently needed work, and I decided to avail myself of the company’s recrafting services. I brought the shoes, the Rutledge in walnut, to the Allen Edmonds store in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood, and they sent the shoes back to Wisconsin to be worked on.
I selected the standard recrafting package. For the sum of $125, you get new soles, new heels, a new cork inlay, new welting, new laces and a complete refinishing.
About a month later, the refurbished shoes arrived on my doorstep. Almost as good as new, with the leather retaining that broken in quality that takes a few years to obtain.
I’ve come to think of most independently owned women’s boutiques as bastions of overpriced, made in China detritus.
So I was pleasantly surprised when my lovely wife reported to me that Tangerine Boutique, a women’s clothing store in our neighborhood, had a not insubstantial collection of made in America clothing.
This past weekend, we braved the rain to check it out.
I must admit, I was impressed. Made in USA items abounded, in a way that clearly appeared to be deliberate.
Tangerine Boutique traffics in what could best be described as clothing with a laid back, California vibe. Still, there were several pieces that could easily be described as classic.
One of those was a halter maxi dress from Tysa. It certainly has a relaxed, bohemian aesthetic. But it’s well designed with a timeless, elegant look. And, since my wife was absolutely stunning in it, she eagerly added it to her closet.
Tysa, the eponymous brainchild of Tysa Wright, was launched in 2004. For 15 years, it has done what very few clothing designers in the United States have done: maintained a commitment to American manufacturing, producing its entire product line in this country. Music to our ears.
No offense to the good people of Buffalo, New York, but, despite its many charms, it isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you wax poetic about Ivy style.
It’s a hard nosed, working class city, once a bastion of opportunities for immigrants. But, like Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit, it is a metropolis on the shady side of history, with decades of population loss decimating its urban core.
Yet it’s home to what is arguably the premier shop (apologies to J. Press, none to Brooks Brothers) for traditional clothing in the country: O’Connell’s Clothing.
O’Connell’s was founded in 1959, the approximate high water mark for the Ivy style in the U.S. Where so many other independent purveyors of traditional men’s clothing have gone the way of the dodo, O’Connell’s has endured–and thrived.
How I cannot imagine. It traffics in a style that has a declining audience. It doesn’t have the upper crust cache of J. Press or the Andover Shop. And it is located neither in a major metropolitan area nor a venerable New England town. Nothing about O’Connell’s reality seems to presage its success.
And yet, here we are.
O’Connell’s is one of the last outposts for the classic American style, firm footed in its commitment to American manufacturing. While it sells Shetland sweaters from Scotland, leather gloves from England and fisherman’s sweaters from Ireland, just about everything else it proffers is made on these shores. And it does so matter of factly, with little fanfare, as if such a thing is the norm in style commerce today.
I’ve never had the privilege of visiting O’Connell’s in person. But the company’s robust online presence suggests what an impressive place that must be, filled to the rafters with all varieties of traditional, classic clothing.
In recent months, I’ve purchased two items from O’Connell’s: a madras button down popover (which I think was made by our friends in Fall River) and a deadstock pair of madras trousers that, by my estimate, dates to some time in the early 80s.
They’re both superlative pieces–classic in every way, impeccable in their construction and timeless in appearance and execution.
A word of note about the popover shirts: They are cut quite substantially. I’m 5’11” and I got a small. Even so, it’s a tad baggy on me.
Murray’s Toggery Shop is famous as the purveyor of Nantucket Reds–the essential trouser of northeastern summer. For generations, traditionally minded gents have ensconced themselves in the trouser’s pinkish hue.
Sadly, most Nantucket Reds (except Murray’s M Crest line) are no longer manufactured in the United States–another despairing example of a classic brand that has gone to seed chasing foreign production as a way to save costs and cut corners.
Last year, however, I purchased a vintage piece that is a reminder of how central Murray’s once was to classic American clothing.
I was sifting the wares at a vintage store on lower Westheimer in Houston when I chanced upon a madras sports coat. I had for some time been in the market for a madras jacket, but I had yet to find one to my liking. I opened it up and found the Murray’s label. Further inspection revealed that the jacket was both American and union made.
It fit almost perfectly, and a quick trip to the tailors rectified the excess sleeve length on the left side.
Versatility is a prized attribute. The best items in our wardrobe thrive in multiple contexts. It’s an oxford cloth button down shirt that can be worn both with a blazer and tie or with a pair of madras shorts. It’s a Shetland sweater that pairs equally well with jeans or a tweed sportscoat.
I remember once, in my younger days, seeing a television segment about a woman who advised people on maximizing the functionality of their wardrobes. Her ironclad rule was that every piece you buy should be combine-able with items you already own to create at least three different outfits.
This New York-based company sells its wares in collections (capsules in the modern parlance). Each capsule contains five items, and every one of those items can be worn in several different ways. When combined, those five pieces produce 30 different outfits.
It’s an audacious idea–one designed to maximize versatility and minimize conspicuous consumption.
My wife considered a few of the capsules. But a couple of items in each were either not exactly to her liking or were redundant with other pieces she already owns. So she decided to start out with one of the shirts from the Casual Capsule (every piece Vetta Capsule sells can be purchased individually as well.).
It’s called the Boyfriend Shirt. With a nod to classic menswear, the shirt can be worn loose, knotted at the waist and even reversed. It’s made in New York City in a factory where many of the workers have been making clothes for the better part of three decades.
All of Vetta Capsule’s wares are made in the United States–with a commitment to minimizing fashion’s environmental impact. My wife’s shirt is made from Tencel, a fabric that comes from sustainably harvested wood pulp that’s processed, according to Vetta, “in a closed looped system that recycles solvents.”
We’re quite taken by what Vetta is striving to accomplish–fashion at the intersection of classic styling, versatility and environmental consciousness.
For years, yours truly has grappled with keychain designs of less than practical dimensions. Many of us know the nearly ubiquitous circle as an antagonist to fingernails. Removing or inserting keys is an exercise in masochism.
The other popular option is a spring latch system. My experience has been that, over time, the latch weakens and begins to separate, causing keys to begin slipping out.
That’s whhy, when I discovered Craighill’s closed helix keychain, I was immediately smitten. It’s an ingenious design–innovative, easy to use and aesthetically inspiring. A little work of art, in fact.
The chain itself–1/8″ stainless steel wire–is shaped like a crossed ribbon. One of the ends is removable, enabling the keys to be slipped on effortlessly. The wire is made in Cicero, Ill., while the ends are made in Cleveland, Ohio.; the combined package is finished in Craighill’s New York workshop.
It represents, in my humble estimation, the apotheosis of keychain design.
The keychain is one of several metal objects Craighill sells, all, to my knowledge, made in the United States. Craighill traffics in the kind of small objects that transform the quotidian into the divine; several are on my wish list.
They probably didn’t intend me to wear their clothes like this.
Although Freenote Cloth touts itself as “a classic menswear collection manufactured exclusively in the United States,” it has a somewhat different view than we do of what constitutes classic.
Its collection suggests a rugged, rural Americana that is rooted in classic concepts of workwear.
Not that we can’t appreciate a fine piece of workwear ourselves. But our perspective hews a little more to the patrician side of the classic spectrum.
Still, a few of the shirts they make have nestled their way into my wardrobe: button ups in heavy cotton khaki and navy wool and a blue and cream striped t-shirt. And, despite our differences in approach, they are among my favorites. Each has a subtle nod to classic pieces from yesteryear, with a kind of louche, insouciant styling characteristic of Hollywood in the 1940s.
Freenote was founded by brothers Matt and Andrew Brodrick and is located in the historic district of San Juan Capistrano, California.
And I think they’re really on to something. They’ve devised a series of American made collections with a truly ecumenical appeal. The kind of clothing that can go from ranch to cocktails without missing a beat.
By all indications, the company is still a going concern.
But its commitment to American manufacturing has now dipped below the horizon. A dark night, indeed.
Where once Criquet prospered on the strength of American made goods, it has now almost completely abdicated that commitment in favor of overseas production, principally in China. It was one of the best sources for American made pique polo shirts (the other being North Carolina’s High Cotton). Its long sleeve chamois shirts were a winter mainstay. And it offered a wide range of made in Texas button downs.
I always had a fond place in my heart for what Criquet was trying to do. I knew, of course, that not everything Criquet sold was made domestically. But their insouciant, casual iconoclasm (dosed with a liberal sprinkling of Austin wise-assery) resulted in some mighty fine pieces, several of which are foundational pieces in my wardrobe.
But now, none but a couple of legacy pieces is made on these shores. It’s all, of course, “Designed in Austin, Texas.” But American manufacturers need not apply.
This is happening far too often. And I refuse, any longer, to mince words.