A couple of years back, Red Wing stores started sprouting up in my region with surprising regulatory. A cursory Google Maps search tells me that 11 standalone Red Wing stores now populate the Houston metropolitan area.
Given Red Wing’s commitment to American manufacturing, that development warms my heart.
My wife and I had occasion to visit one of those stores last year. Followers of Red Wing’s Instagram page that we are, we took note of a post that featured a pair of women’s boots, the Clara, a model from the company’s Heritage line.
So, on our visit, my wife tried on a pair. We were bowled over. They looked both stylish and tough as nails–a rare combination in women’s footwear. Buying them was a no-brainer.
So far, she’s worn them with jeans, with trousers, with dresses and with skirts. All to wonderful effect.
I too have pair of Red Wing Boots: a chukka that calls to mind the original Clarks Desert Boots: tan suede uppers, rubber sole, etc.
Red Wing got its start in 1905. The company grew quickly, so much so that by 1917 it was the principal supplier of boots for the U.S. military in World War I.
Today, Red Wing manufactures most of its footwear in two domestic locations: Red Wing, Minn. and Potosi, Mo. While the company’s commitment to American production is not complete (some models are made overseas), we’re grateful that it has largely stayed true to its American roots.
We are dedicated partisans for American manufacturing. But our commitment isn’t predicated on a sense of national chauvinism. It’s instead a hunger for localism, a desire to purchase goods that are produced in the communities where we live, work and play.
That’s true as well for the countries we visit. While there, we seek out those enterprises trying, against the odds, to design and make clothing in a local context.
My wife and I recently took a trip to Havana, Cuba. We traveled to “Support the Cuban People”, one of twelve categories under which U.S. nationals are allowed to visit Cuba. We were intrigued by the possibility of interacting with Cuban cuentapropistas, local entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of the government’s slightly more liberal attitude toward small scale private enterprise.
Those enterprises take several forms. They’re casas particulares, rooms for rent in peoples houses, many of which are now listed on Airbnb. They’re paladores, privately owned restaurants with interesting takes on local cuisine. And they’re among a collection of burgeoning shops with a commitment to local production and design.
During Cuba’s “Special Period“–the lean, desperate time following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its primary Cold War benefactor–domestic manufacturing of clothing went belly up.
In recent years, however, new voices have emerged on the Cuban style scene. The first was Clandestina, a clothing shop with slick, modern, playful vibe, the kind of enterprise you might find in the hippest corners of Austin, Portland or Brooklyn. Its name, in fact, is a play on the black market clothing shops–tiendas clandestinas–that popped up in the aftermath of the Special Period.
What really caught our eye, however, was a newcomer to the Cuban fashion scene: Dador. Established in 2018, Dador is the collective brainchild of three Cuban designers: Lauren Fajardo, Ilse Antón and Raquel Janero. The shop’s aesthetic is defined by a casual elegance, evocative of its island roots. Everything is produced in its upstairs workshop.
During our visit, my wife purchased a top from Dador’s Malecon collection. It’s an exceptionally well designed piece, made out of a horizontally striped blue and cream linen, with cap sleeves and red buttons down each side. Living in the subtropics that we do, it’s an ideal additional to her spring, summer and early autumn wardrobe.
I admire Dador not only for its impeccable sense of style and its commitment to local production, but also for its perseverance in the face of daunting obstacles. Despite the slightly more favorable entrepreneurial environment in Cuba, doing business there is still notoriously difficult. Depending on the caprice of governmental authorities, private enterprise can quickly fall out of favor, resulting in a regulatory crackdown that makes private sector economic activity all but impossible.
Against these odds, Dador has emerged. If you find yourself in Havana, I strongly recommend you pay them a visit.
Back in 2012, a minor Internet kerfuffle erupted over a belt Lands End offered on its website. Many observers noted that it was strikingly similar to one Kiel James Patrick had been selling.
Understandably, Kiel James Patrick’s owner was apoplectic. While fashion designs cannot be copyrighted, he bemoaned that state of affairs, waving the banner of local production:
“It broke my heart to have customers, friends and family send me link after link this past week to Lands’ End’s e-commerce site. There was my creation being sold at a fraction of the cost simply by sacrificing quality, originality and integrity of local production. I couldn’t have felt more discouraged on my mission to continue designing original products and sustaining my American production.”
For years, his namesake company has been a steady and reliable source of classic clothing, manufactured in the United States. In fact, the very first item we featured in these parts was one of the company’s New England made scallop oxfords.
A couple of years ago, my wife was in the market for a nice winter dress. She ended up purchasing one in navy plaid from the company’s Cozy Cabin Flannel line–made of course in the United States.
Fast forward a couple of years, and the company’s clothing line is, as far as I can tell, increasingly bereft of American made items. Nearly everything seems to be “Imported”–a craven descriptor that tells you everything you need to know about how thoroughly Kiel James Patrick has jettisoned it’s commitment to “local production.”
When humans first began gathering into early manifestations of civilization, pouches made of animal hide were essential in helping us carry useful items: a few spare arrowheads, a bit of dried food, a drill, a scraper, a small amulet.
That impulse, of course, has not left us.
Enter the venerable handbag. Those of us not among the fairer sex can be forgiven for assuming pockets would do the job of holding everything a woman needs. But women’s clothing is notoriously bereft of usable pockets.
As I’ve indicated before, my wife generally eschews purses. When we go out, particularly for a nice cocktail or to go dancing, she relies on me to Sherpa her lipstick and ID. Anything else, on such an outing, she finds generally superfluous.
But there are times, either for form or for function, that she carries a purse.
And with her current purse, an inexpensive hand me down, nearing the end of its useful life, she wanted a handbag from the upper echelon of craftsmanship, something that would last her well into her emeritus years.
For a fleeting moment, we considered J.W. Hulme. But when we discovered that it had begun outsourcing a good deal of its production, we demurred.
A cursory internet search brought Frank Clegg into our orbit. Frank Clegg has been around since 1970, making many varieties of leather goods in its Fall River, Mass. workshop. I could summarize the company’s history myself, but I think it does an admirable and charming job itself:
“In 1970, Frank Clegg … had been given a set of leather tools from his girlfriend as a Christmas gift. In time, his girlfriend became his wife, and the toolset became the seed for a brand that has set the benchmark for fine leather bags and accessories for over 40 years. A generation later, Frank Clegg with his two sons, Andrew and Ian, have continued the legacy of what is now known as Frank Clegg Leatherworks. From a restored mill built in historic Fall River, Massachusetts, they and their team of specialized artisans handcraft the finest leather goods in America. “
And that last line is no idle boast. I should note that the ladies at the PurseForum have a particular fondness for Clegg’s handbags–one even calling them “the closest thing to nirvana”–noting that they represent a value far in excess of their price range.
My wife picked the Lilly Shoulder Bag in cognac. After we placed the order, it took about four weeks for Clegg to make the handbag and send it our way.
Its dimensions are fairly modest–given the paucity of items my wife carries, a perfect size. And the construction and materials are absolutely first rate. It’s now her primary handbag, and for good reason.
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.